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Women in the Trades Map


A common misperception is that women did not hold many jobs in the 18th century, and that they only stayed home and cared for the family and the garden. However, there were no laws against women working, and although it wasn't commonplace, women held many of the same jobs men did. In this lesson, students will use a map of the Colonial Williamsburg historic area to predict where women would have been able to be employed in the eighteenth century. Then, they will use historical accounts of women in trades to challenge their initial assumptions and make new observations about work for women in colonial America.


In this lesson, students:

  • Identify trades that were not open to women
  • Identify trades that women participated in during the eighteenth century
  • Determine the trades that were more typical for women to participate in, and those in which women were rare
  • Evaluate roles of women in the eighteenth century to dispel misconceptions


    Download Lesson Materials (PDF)

  • Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area Map (printed or photocopied to 11 x 17, one for each group)
  • Trade Cards (one set per group)
  • Colored pencils


  1. Divide students into groups of 4. Give each group a copy of the Colonial Williamsburg Historic Area Map. Give students a couple of minutes to examine the map.
  2. Ask students to find the map key. If necessary, define terms from the map key.
  3. Explain to students that the year is 1760. Ask students to draw a star next to each map key item if they think a woman could get a job at that location. They should draw an X next to the map key places they believe would not hire a woman.
  4. Give each group a packet of Trade Cards. One person in the group should choose a card and reads it to the group. The group should then match the card to the appropriate location on the map. Groups should repeat this procedure, with a different student reading the card each time, until all the cards have been placed.
  5. Ask groups to compare the stars and Xs they drew on their map key with the information they learned from the Trade Cards. Ask students to draw new stars and Xs on their map key in a different color to reflect the information on the Trade Cards.
  6. Discuss the map.
      a. Did anything surprise you about women in the workplace during this time?
      b. Were there any jobs that women didn't have in the eighteenth century? Do women hold those jobs today?
      c. What were some of the reasons women were working in jobs outside the home? Compare these reasons to reasons why women work today.
      d. Clarify for students that even though women held these jobs, many were not commonplace. Women were much more likely to hold jobs like milliner, shopkeeper, mantua-maker, and tavern keeper than gunsmith, blacksmith, or printer.
  7. Have students answer this question on a piece of paper and turn this in as an exit slip:
    What are the three most important ideas that you would want people to know about women working in trades/jobs during the 18th century?

Lesson Extensions

Discuss how women's roles in the workplace have changed in the twenty-first century.

Ask students what they would like to be when they grow up. Did those jobs exist in the eighteenth century? Were there restrictions on who could perform them?

Use Colonial Williamsburg's history website,, to explore the trades and tradespeople of eighteenth-century Williamsburg.

Watch this vodcast on women in the trades and project it for the class:

This lesson was written by Dee Besl, Cincinnati, OH, and Sharon Sobierajski, Buffalo, NY.