Did apprenticeships exist during medieval times?
And if so were apprenticeships they freely available to all? During times of war and plague all throughout history women have pulled up their socks and kept society trudging along. A common misconception about women’s roles during these times is that they mainly functioned in supportive roles like housekeeping and child rearing – but their roles were more varied than that.
Being a woman in the Middle Ages
Letters, wills, legal documents and consensus records indicate medieval women’s working role mostly focused on domestic needs. Peasant women were expected to take care of housework as well as help with field work and have a general understanding of medicine to care for the children as well. Servanthood was a common means for women to acquire money for their dowries. In the Middle Ages women were generally maids, merchants or engaged in farm work for those living in rural areas. Their main role in society was to take care of their family including noble women having no choice in a marriage that was based on the family gain.
Medieval apprenticeships for women
In any case skilled trade options for women were available but not to the same freedom as men and most jobs involved living situations with their master as was the custom. Most did not place themselves into apprenticeships without the involvement of a relative and the authorization of a male was common. There were at least three levels in the artisan industry consisting of apprentice, journeyman and master and there is little to no evidence of medieval women reaching a master level. Women often worked in haberdasheries and were hat makers, cobblers, tanners and even silk weavers often training under the master’s wife. In fact, most women were able to work with, and sometimes at the same level as their husbands but some cities and towns excluded women from guilds even the widowers that continued their late husband’s trade work.
Changes in medieval society onward…
Historical research shows that women were not the ‘damsels in distress’ of the Middle Ages that many believed often stepping into to fill gaps in the workforce and that continues to today. They provided the core of the workforce in many trades such as clothing and in the late Middle Ages when the Black Death came, women were predominantly the ones to care for people. Researchers argue that the Black Death held women in their social positions while others claim it advantaged women with more job work opportunities and widows prospered bringing fortune into new marriages which established better treatment for them. In times of war, women are often called upon to fill gaps in manual trade in the absence of enlisted men and in most cases were told to leave their jobs when the men returned.
Ladies in Trade
In 21st Century Australia the number of females learning a trade is steadily on the rise. Bribie Island based, Abbey Medieval Festival sponsors, Hans Electrical, are one of many nationwide businesses encouraging today’s youth to forge a career in the various trade industries.
The Hans Electrical wife and husband team of Petra and Hans Krumbholz are proud to have trained and mentored one of many bright and eager, young female Australian tradies who have gone on to become an example to other young women aspiring to pursue trade career goals. 21 year old Cassandra – the ‘2016 Best Electrical Apprentice’ award winner in her year first joined Hans Electrical as a work experience student. Having completed her 4 year apprenticeship, Cassie now works alongside her mentor Hans with future plans to begin a Master’s degree and travel.