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To learn more about the engraver of the 17th-century head-piece pictured to the left, see the IN BRIEF biography for Wenceslaus Hollar.

More of my research about women who were involved in the 17th-century scientific/technical book trade (as printers, publishers, booksellers, and authors of accounting textbooks) will be found in She-philosopher.​com’s greatly enlarged and revised GALLERY EXHIBIT on “Women in the Print Trade.”

For full bibliographical descriptions of any works cited here, see:

• for pre-20th-century works, She-philosopher.​com’s selected list of Primary Sources

• for 20th-century and 21st-century works, She-philosopher.​com’s selected list of Secondary Sources

For more about forthcoming projects planned for this website, see the PREVIEWS section.

First Published:  August 2012

Under Construction

S O R R Y,  but this e-publication page (with an HTML transcript of Advice to the Women and Maidens of London: Shewing ... the Method of Keeping Books of Account ..., by “One of That Sex”, first printed at London in 1678) is still under construction.

17th-century head-piece showing six boys with farm tools, by Wenceslaus Hollar

We apologize for the inconvenience, and hope that you will return to check on its progress another time.

If you have specific questions relating to’s ongoing research projects, contact the website editor.

B Y   W A Y   O F   I N T R O D U C T I O N

Intended to teach women

the right understanding and practice of the method of keeping books of account: whereby, either single, or married, they may know their estates, carry on their trades, and avoid the danger of a helpless and forlorn condition, incident to widows

(from 1678 title-page)

this accounting manual for women — a quarto of about 40 pages, including several sample ledgers — is an early masterpiece of information design.

Advice to the Women and Maidens of London: Shewing ... the Method of Keeping Books of Account ... opens by renouncing English women’s limited “education in needle-work, lace, and point-making,” arguing that elsewhere in the world, bookkeeping is traditionally part of the women’s sphere, and a necessary skill for those women hoping to move beyond “the female slavery” to a more independent lifestyle. In foreign countries, the reader learns,

Merchants and other trades men have no other Book-keepers then their Wives: who by this means (the Husband dying) are well acquainted with the nature and manner of the trade.

By the time this textbook appeared, there was already an established market for pre-printed business forms and assorted financial tools. Playing cards and books teaching both sexes the rudiments of mathematics had been published in London for almost a century by then, and calculators had also become fashionable (e.g., Samuel Morland’s “arithmetic engine,” designed about 1660, was specifically aimed at the “Ladies”). An earlier calculator, William Pratt’s Arithmeticall Jewell, which fitted into a pocket in the cover of its instruction manual and was useful for “all Arithmetic works in whole Numbers as all fractional operations without fractions or reductions,” first appeared in 1617. And the always-popular almanacs included more and more computational tables (e.g., for calculating compound interest) as the century progressed.

All of this raises questions for Mary Poovey’s theory about the supposed move to a gendered system of double-entry bookkeeping in England c.1620. According to Poovey, the new bookkeeping replaced the more heterogeneous narrative accounts of daily business transactions recorded by women and servants in the conventional memorial — “after the capacitie of their minds” — with the rule-governed writing and numbers of the masculine journal. As a result, the socioeconomic abstraction we now know as “the market” came into being. Poovey argues that bookkeeping’s new discourse of economic rationality created a statistical basis for measuring the economy, while at the same time presenting it as something lawlike and knowable, mostly by equating risk with women’s style of work.

Into its 4th edn. by 1708, this accounting manual’s content and popularity suggest that the tradeswomen of 17th-century London had different preoccupations concerning “the market,” and their ability to function effectively within it.


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