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The Role of Women as Typesetters in the French Printing Industry

1865 to 1867
This image published in a French periodical was copied from the illustration of the Printing Office of the Victoria Press in London

This image published in a French periodical was copied from the illustration of the Printing Office of the Victoria Press in London published in The Illustrated London News on June 15, 1861, p. 555. Emily Faithfull founded the Victoria Press to create jobs for women.

While in Paris in September 2012 I acquired an album or scrapbook in 4to format bound in 19th century blindstamped red cloth.  It is labeled on the spine simply Receuil de Journaux. On all 184 pages of the album someone pasted newspaper clippings from printing trade journals and other souvenirs of the printing trade published between 1865 and 1867.  The articles emphasize social issues in the printing trade, especially in typesetting.

Two topics in the collection of clippings and ephemera stand out: pp. 24-65 and 74-76 concern the employment of women as typesetters. Typesetting was one place in the print shop where women were sometimes employed at the time; other job sometimes offered women was feeding paper into printing machines. Considering the large amount of coverage of women typesetters one wonders if the album might have been assembled by a woman. The second half of the album mainly concerns issues regarding the exhibition of the printing trades in the Paris Exhibition of 1867. 

There is no identification of ownership in the album except an unusual French diamond-shaped bookplate reflecting a serious interest in the history of printing. This contains a monogram which may be read PLM or LMP, or some other combination of the letters.

Images in the album show women doing typesetting, a lithography plant, a bank note printing plant, and some unusual ephemera. Whoever assembled the album went to the great effort of preparing what appears to be a complete manuscript index to people and places mentioned, making this an unusually valuable reference source for two years in the long history of printing in Paris.

Beginning quite early in the history of printing women were from time to time employed as typesetters. The first press known to have employed women was the press of the monastery of San Jacopo di Ripoli which employed nuns from its convent as compositors setting type. The press was in operation in Tuscany from 1476-1484. However, the employment of women in the male-dominated printing trade remained controversial throughout the 19th century. The images in the spectacular book advertising the very large Alfred Mame printing company show women employed only in the bindery, and there chiefly in the folding of sheets in preparation for binding. On the other hand Paul Dupont made a point of featuring his employment of women as typesetters in his book on his printing business issued in 1867.

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