Vintage “Occupations for Women”
These trading cards from the 1880s came with American cigarettes produced by Goodwin & Company and Frismuth’s Tobacco Company. Trading cards usually featured baseball players, but things got a bit racy when they produced these multi-coloured etchings of “Occupations For Women”, which are from the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s collection:
Let the Hunger Games begin!
I was really excited to find these images of bizarre cards showing women dressed as anything from a Miner to Minister, but couldn’t put my finger on why they seemed so unusual. I doubt they were “occupations” in the way we now understand them to be careers, because they include things like Tourist and Dandy? Either way most of these “occupations” were not actually available to women at that time either because they are straight-up bonkers (King of the Amazons?) or because they were outside of the narrow range of activities considered suitably feminine, like nursing or teaching. What makes these cards odd is that they were not meant to be aspirational for women, but were mere entertainment for men because American women only really started smoking in the 1920s after the suffrage movement. What a pity.
Applications are now open for a dynamic and fast-paced role as…KING OF THE AMAZONS!
Totally what I pack for weekends away
|Is that…Darth Vader?|
I did a little reading about what work women would have actually been doing in America at the end of the 19th century and found that it was mostly poorly paid, informal or part-time domestic work like laundering and seamstressing, or inn-keeping, brewing, millinery and of course prostitution (for more information about life during the industrial revolution I would recommend this online Yale lecture).
So these cards appear to be a complete fantasy and could have very well been Occupations for Cats (actually a great idea, any takers?). I guess they were a pre-cursor for pin-up girls and were nothing more than dress-up dolls in imaginative and alluring outfits, but they are beautifully illustrated and I love the absurdity of some of these occupations, like Highwayman:
Cycling 4 evs!
Women smoking? Not for another 50 years.
Love that heart in the jar
For my own personal enjoyment I would love to see the scientist or engineer illustrations. This would even be quite a far-fetched occupation by today’s standards as only 11% of working engineers in the US are female. Here’s the closest one, an Aeronaut which could perhaps be a modern day aeronautical engineer, but probably meant the pilot of a hot-air balloon.
What do you think about these cards? They are beautiful and bizarre, but it’s a pity they weren’t aimed at women!