“Appropriate to Her Sex”? Women’s Participation on the Construction Site in Medieval and Early Modern Europe

Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The construction site, supported by numerous trades and material suppliers, was an important factor in the economy of cities in medieval and early modern Europe. When reading the literature on the history of architecture, construction, and the related trades, one has the impression that women made virtually no contribution to the built environment other than as aristocratic patrons of the art. Although it is true that the majority of day laborers and craftsmen at any given site were male, there is evidence in many regions of Western Europe that women were commonly employed alongside the men, albeit in the most menial of tasks. Poor women and slaves worked as day laborers on construction sites, and women of better means were employed in the workshops of the various building-related crafts. One might not expect to find a woman in the historically male position of master of a craft, much less as a master of the works, or architect. The training and professional licensure required for these positions legally barred women from their attainment, and socially it was not permissible for a woman to be in this kind of a position of knowledge and leadership.1 However, aristocratic women were in a position to personally influence and guide the design of the projects they patronized, and there are cases where women have managed the design and construction of their own homes.


Seventeenth Century Construction Site Poor Woman Fifteenth Century Working Woman 
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© Theresa Earenfight 2010

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