Banner graphic for She-philosopher.com: Studies in the history of science, technology & culture
Your support enables us to further develop this unique collection of scholarly resources: Donate to She-philosopher.com!

Q U I C K   L I N K S

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
Revised (substantive):  11 October 2017


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 She-philosopher.com’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 multiple 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 what Bathsua Makin, Margaret Cavendish, and others called “the female slavery” to a more independent lifestyle. While the pseudonymous “One of that Sex” concedes her culture’s gendering of double-entry bookkeeping as a “Masculine Art,” she disagrees “that this art is too high and mysterious for the weaker Sex,” arguing from her own personal experience that accounting is no “harder or more difficult then the effeminate achievements of Lace-makeing, gum-work or the like” (2). Nor will skill at accounting make women too “proud” for their station. Rather, accountancy is a virtuous art by which women can contribute to the domestic economy, as in foreign countries where “Merchants and other trades men have no other Book-keepers then their Wives” (1). Addressing herself to “Ladies and Gentlewomen,” this English woman accountant and cashier asks that they

Permit one of your Sex to give you, as far as her small knowledge will reach some hints to the right understanding and use of Accounts: an Art so useful for all sorts, sexes and degrees of persons, especially for such as ever think to have to do in the world in any sort of Trade or Commerce, that next to a stock of Mony, Wares and Credit, this is the most necessary thing.
     Nor let us be discouraged, or put by the inspection thereof by being bid meddle with our distaff, for I have heard it affirmed by those who have lived in forraign part, that 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, and are so certain how, and where their stock is; that they need not be beholden to servants or friends for guidance.
     And for telling us that the government of the House appertains to us, and the trades to our Fathers or Husbands; (under favour) the one is to be minded, and the other not neglected, for there is not that danger of a families overthrow by the sause wanting it’s right relish, or the Table or Stools misplac’t, as by a widows ignorance of her concern as to her estate, and I hope husbands will not oppose this when help and ease is intended to them whil’st living; and safety to their name and posterity after death: except they have private trades (too much in mode) whereof they would have their wives wholly ignorant. In such a case indeed, one that knows not that one and two make three suits best. And let us not fear we shall want time and opportunity to mannage the decencies of our house; for what is an hour in a day, or half a day in a week, to make inspection into that, that is to keep me and mine from ruine and poverty.
     Methinks now the objection may be that this art is too high and mysterious for the weaker Sex it will make them proud: Women had better keep to their Needlework, point laces, &c. and if they come to poverty, those small Crafts may give them some mean releif.
     To which I answer, That having in some measure practised both Needle-work and Accounts I can averr, that I never found this Masculine Art harder or more difficult then the effeminate achievements of Lace-makeing, gum-work or the like, the attainment whereof need not make us proud: And God forbid that the practise of an useful Virtue should prompt us to a contrary Vice.
     Therefore if I might advise you, you should let the poor serve you with these mean things, whilst by gaining or saving an estate you shall never be out of capacity to store your selves more abundantly with those trifles, then your own industry in such matters could have ever blest ye[.]
     And now Gentlewomen I give you those rudiments of Accounts which are the subject of this little pamphlet and transmit this learning to you the best I can, in the self same manner as it came to me.
     Know then that my Parents were very careful to cause me to learn writing and Arithmetick, and in that I proceeded as far as Reduction, the Rule of Three and Practice, with other Rules, for without the knowledge of these I was told I should not be capable of Trade and Book-keeping and in these I found no discouragement for though Arithmetick set my brains at work, Yet there was much delight in seeing the end, and how each question produced a fair answer and informed me of things I knew not.
     Afterwards I was put to Keep an exact account of the expence of House-keeping, and other petty Charges, my Father made it my office to call all persons to an account every night what they had laid out, and to reimburse it them, and set all down in a book, and this is the way to make one a Cashier as they are termed, and one that can keep a fair account of receipts and payments of Money or Cash-book, is in a good way towards the understanding of Book-keeping: Shee that is so well versed in this as to keep the accounts of her Cash right and dayly entred in a book fair without blotting, will soon be fit for greater undertakings.

(One of that Sex, Advice to the Women and Maidens of London: Shewing ... the Method of Keeping Books of Account ..., 1678, 1–3)

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.

go to TOP of page

go to Catalog entry for this digital edition in the She-philosopher.com LIBRARY