Nonconformist and Evangelical Women Printers and Booksellers, 1690-1825

Imprint Histories of a Select Group of Nonconformist and Evangelical Women

Booksellers and Printers in Great Britain During the Long Eighteenth Century

As the amount of reading material written by and for women increased dramatically in the last quarter of the eighteenth century, what William St. Clair describes as an explosion among “readerships, and the size of the whole reading nation,” the number of women working as printers, booksellers, print-sellers, and stationers increased as well. Innovations in the printing industry and limitations upon perpetual intellectual property rights placed upon printers and sellers as a result of the renewal in 1774 by the House of Lords of the 1710 Copyright Act that allowed copyrights to expire after 28 years lessened the benefits some women printers and booksellers had previously enjoyed, usually wives and daughters who inherited their family businesses. As St. Clair rightly notes, however, many of these women were bound by pre-exemption rights created by the Stationers’ Guild the previous century that strongly encouraged widows and daughters to continue the family business. As a result, many women became successful printers and booksellers in their own right, playing “a part in the book industry from the earliest days” and making themselves “highly marriageable” (96).  

At the same time that many women were operating successful businesses in the print trades, they began to face pressure from cultural norms that now seemed to privilege the role of the male “breadwinner” and relegate the woman’s place to the home, leading to a decline in the number of women working in certain quarters of the printing trades in the second half of the eighteenth century. Michelle Levy suggests that “[m]ost of our knowledge of women’s activities as publishers and printers in Britain derives from the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.” Tamara Hunt reinforces this assertion, noting that during the eighteenth century, only 1% of all apprentices in the book trade were women (48), and the total number of women masters in the print trade declined from 47 in the first quarter of the century to 17 in the last quarter, evidence that Hunt believes suggests that “women were increasingly left behind as the world of publishing grew, developed, and attained a position of social prominence in the nineteenth century”  (49, 54, 60).  Recent research, however, seems to counter or, at least, qualify that assertion.  Hannah Barker argues that the last half of the eighteenth century actually reveals a persistent continuity of women working in the print trades and appearing as printers and sellers on a broader spectrum of imprints than in the first half of the  century.  

Title page of Maria de Fleury's final contribution in her pamphlet war with the antinomian minister William Huntington. Note the dominating presence of women on the title page: de Fleury as author and seller,  joined by two other women sellers, Martha Trapp and Martha Gurney.

According to Barker, during the last quarter of the century the number of women involved in making and selling books and other aspects of the print trade in London and the provinces actually increased by 50%, with more than 70 women operating as stationers, 54 as booksellers, 45 as printers, and 24 as bookbinders.

As the lives and careers of more women printers and booksellers and the nature and extent of their print histories, their business locations, and their professional, social, political, and religious affiliations and connections are brought forward, a more definitive and complete picture of the role of women in London’s eighteenth-century book trade is slowly but steadily emerging. This website seeks to further that ongoing work, presenting the lives and careers of 16 women printers and booksellers in England in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, all of whom were members of or affiliated closely with religious dissent as Particular Baptists, Independents, Moravians, Quakers, or Calvinistic Methodists (some remaining within the Anglican communion). The chronology of the careers of these women begins in the 1730s and continues into the third decade of the 19th century.

This site comprises 2027 imprints, either printed or sold by these dissenting women, along with complete bibliographic details. For detailed commentary on selected imprints revealing connections between these women printers and sellers and each other as well as connections between them and a host of  dissenting writers and other like-minded printers and sellers at that time, click here.

Click on the links below to see a summary of each woman's life and career, as well as her complete imprint history and locations of each establishment on a c. 1800 map of London.

For more on women booksellers in the eighteenth century, see Frances Hamill, “Some Unconventional Women Before 1800: Printers, Booksellers, and Collectors,” Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, 49 (1955), 306-10; Tamara Hunt, “Women’s Participation in the Eighteenth-Century English Publishing Trades,” Leipziger Jahrbuch zur Buchgeschichte 6 (1996), 47-65; Hannah Barker, “Women, Work and the Industrial Revolution: Female Involvement in the English Printing Trades, c.1700-1840,” in Gender in Eighteenth-Century England: Roles, Representation and Responsibilities, ed. Hannah Barker and Elaine Chalus (London and New York: Longman, 1997), 81-100; Paula McDowell, The Women of Grub Street: Press, Politics, and Gender in the London Literary Marketplace 1678-1730 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998); idem, “Women and the Business of Print,” in Vivien Jones (ed.), Women and Literature in Britain 1700-1800 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 135-54; Europe G. Sheridan, “Women in the Book Trade in the Eighteenth Century: An Untold Story,” in Writing the History of Women’s Writing: Toward an International Approach, ed. Suzan van Dijk, Lia van Gemert, Sheila Ottway (Amsterdam: KNAW, 2001), 197-210; James Raven, “Location, Size, and Succession: the Bookshops of Paternoster Row before 1800,” in The London Book Trade: Topographies of Print in the Metropolis from the Sixteenth Century, ed. Robin Myers, Michael Harris and Giles Mancelbrote (London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2003), 89-126; Isobel Grundy, “Women and Print: Readers, Writers and the Market,” in The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain 1695-1830, eds. Michael F. Suarez, S. J. and Michael L Turner, Vol. 5 (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2009), 146-60; Michelle Levy, “Women and Print Culture, 1750-1830,” in The History of British Women’s Writings, 1750-1830, vol. 5, ed. Jacqueline M. Labbe (Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010), 29-46; idem, “Do Women Have a Book History?” Studies in Romanticism, 53.3 (2014), 296-317; and James Raven, Bookscape: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800 (London: British Library, 2014). See also William St. Clair, The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 118; Alison McNaught is doing considerable research at present on several dissenting women printers and booksellers, several of which appear in this site; see especially McNaught, "Two Nonconformist Women Printers and Booksellers in the Mid-Eighteenth Century," Bunyan Studies  24 (2020), 65-84, which concerns Tace Sowle and Mary Fenner Waugh, two women printers/booksellers wh0 appear on this sight and whose introductions have benefited from this article.