This paper proposes a gendered analysis of one of the most emblematic workers’ worlds of the nineteenth century: the Lyons silk weaving Fabrique. The organization of the silk industry in Lyons allows us to study, on the one hand, the gendered division of labor in a range of highly specialized trades and, on the other hand, men and women at work in the same space and performing similar tasks. This occupational coexistence, which was not very common in mid-nineteenth century workplaces, is the focus of this paper. We start by outlining the features of this mixed universe, at a pivotal moment in the transformation of the Lyons Fabrique, when it expanded into the hills and plateau of the Croix-Rousse area. We then address an issue that has received little attention in the vast historiography of the canuts: the diversity and heterogeneity of the group of workshop heads. Finally, to identify some of the key features of this diversity, we zoom in on the family workshop, viewing marriage as the foundational moment of the production unit and means of strengthening the professional bonds necessary for it to function.
In a book based on research conducted in the mid-1850s, the liberal economist Louis Reybaud made several mentions of the workings of Lyons weaving workshops, explaining the determining role marriage played within them:
As soon as [a worker] manages to save enough to buy one or two looms, he looks within his own class for a partner of his choice, skilled and hardworking like himself, who can stand in for him where required. As well as running the household, his wife will prepare the silks, occasionally operate the shuttle, maintain order among the apprentices, speed up production, and share in his responsibilities. From that point on, everything in the worker’s life becomes focused on the home.,
This wife takes care of domestic tasks in line with the expected division of labor in the mid-nineteenth century, but can replace her husband “where required.” She prepares the silk, weaves, and has an acknowledged role in the management of the workshop, from overseeing apprentices to monitoring production. According to Jules Simon, philosopher and politician, this ability to conduct the business of the workshop encompassed delivering finished pieces to merchants or their assistants, and negotiating on price. Unlike other types of production, where segregation by sex was the norm in the nineteenth century, in Lyons weaving was a mixed undertaking. Among the many professions in the Fabrique, some bore gendered names, although they were not rigidly exclusive: with female dévideuse…
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