Art/Design, Fashion/Outfit, Life/Style

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:

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

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.

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Applications are now open for a dynamic and fast-paced role as…KING OF THE AMAZONS!

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Totally what I pack for weekends away

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

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).

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

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:

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Cycling 4 evs!

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Women smoking? Not for another 50 years.

One of the occupations which is illustrated is a Physician, and there were probably a handful of women at that time who had succeeded in becoming physicians by being total bad-asses. The first woman in the US to graduate from medical school was Elizabeth Backwell who did so in 1849. She saved up money as a teacher and secretly studied medical books in libraries but was advised that if she wanted to enter medical school she would have to do so disguised as a man. In 1847 she was accepted by one medical school only because they thought her application as a woman was a joke. She graduated and although she struggled to find a hospital which would actually let her work, she did eventually manage to open up her own practice.
News of Liz Blackwell’s achievements spread and she inspired women in other counties to study medicine, such as Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who became the first Englishwoman to qualify as a physician. Liz Garrett Anderson wasn’t allowed to study medicine of course, so she became a nurse to observe male students’ ward rounds, until she was banned from the hospital. She then studied medical books on her own, and found a loophole: the Society of Apothecaries could issue medical licences and was the only institution that had forgotten to ban women. She had the highest scored on their exam and so became a doctor in 1865. She couldn’t join a hospital so she started her own.

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

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.

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

The very first female lawyers would have just come into existence at the time of these cards. Arabella Mansfield became the first female lawyer in the United States in 1869, despite a law restricting bar exam applicants to white males.

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Ally McBeal

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

Vintage “Occupations for Women”

What do you think about these cards? They are beautiful and bizarre, but it’s a pity they weren’t aimed at women!