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Women in milling

About the author

This summer (July-September 2011) I have been working at The Mills Archive as a research volunteer.  I approached the Archive hoping to gain work experience relevant to careers in archiving or research.  Due to my interest in social history and previous study of this area at the undergraduate level I was asked to complete a project regarding an aspect of the social history of millers and milling. 

When I arrived at the Archive, I was a total newcomer to the world of millers and milling!  I then spent several weeks reading about and researching the fundamentals of milling, whilst considering what the topic of my project could be.  In discussion with Ron and Elizabeth at the Archive, we decided upon a project regarding the role of women in the milling industry.  This would both draw upon my interests, as I have studied and written about the role of women in certain historical societies at the undergraduate level, whilst fulfilling their wish for the Archive’s web site to include pages which could give an insight into milling in its socio-historic context. 

With this in mind, I began my research.  The books and historical records held at the Archive, alongside the Archive’s online catalogue, formed the basis of my research.  I also benefitted from the contributions of other volunteers and friends of the Archive who took an interest in my project, which I greatly appreciated, and who were able to offer me names, pictures and further information about lady millers which I was able to incorporate into my project. 

The role of women in the milling industry has been at times a difficult, yet always rewarding, topic to research.  The contribution of women to the milling industry is a challenging area to investigate, largely due to a lack of specific records.  Due to the hard physical nature of work in the milling industry, the milling trade lent itself more to the work of a man than that of a woman.  Additionally, due to the attitudes and values of past societies, female work, roles and contributions in all aspects of life were not recorded in the same way as they were for men.  This all stands alongside the perception of past societies that women were predominantly meant to be wives and mothers, not workers or even equal individuals.  These kinds of attitudes can stand as a barrier to identifying the actual contribution of women to the milling industry, and the role they played within it.  In reality, especially in poor families, women often had no choice than to work to support the economic survival of their families. 

In July 2011 I graduated from the University of Warwick with a BA Hons in History (focusing on the history of the Renaissance period).  Having enjoyed my time at Warwick and having become particularly interested in the social and religious history of early modern Europe, I applied for and was accepted on to a Masters course at Warwick, entitled “Religious, Social and Cultural History, 1500-1750”, which I will begin in October 2011.  I am very much looking forward to undertaking this course and I feel the valuable experience I have gained at The Mills Archive, especially regarding the use of primary sources, undertaking independent research and finally compiling my research into a series of web pages, will be significantly useful to me as I pursue further study.  I must thank all those at The Mills Archive who have assisted me with every aspect of this project, and for the fantastic opportunity they have given me to gain such a valuable experience in undertaking such an interesting and rewarding project.

Claire Wooldridge