Women in Construction: An Early Historical Perspective
Hatipkarasulu, Yilmaz and Roff, Shelley E. (The University of Texas at San Antonio)
47th ASC Annual International Conference Proceedings (2011)
Abstract: Construction is historically described as a non-traditional occupation for women. The majority of the documentation related to working women dates back to the 1950s and includes very limited information about the construction industry. It is crucial to establish a historical framework to properly describe and discuss issues related to women in construction. The purpose of this paper is to present an historical perspective of women‘s roles in construction, which in reality dates back to the medieval period, if not earlier. This information may serve as a starting point for construction educators when discussing diversity and development issues in the classroom. Written and graphic examples of women working in construction as early as the 13th century are included in the paper.
Excerpt: Historically, single and very poor married women worked as low-paid day laborers on construction sites performing unskilled tasks such as carrying water, digging ditches for foundation walls, thatching roofs, and mixing mortar. Women were often hired in gangs and, in some cases, they were slaves. The instances found of women working in the building trades occurred within the family structure; at times, middle-class women had an opportunity to learn a trade or business under the tutelage of their fathers or husbands. Numerous city records provide examples of women working with their fathers and husbands in the building trades as masons, carpenters, doormakers, and others crafts in 13th, 14th , and 15th centuries France, Spain and Germany. Access to particular trades and crafts was increasingly difficult during the economic crises of the 16th and 17th centuries, not only for women but also for outsiders, because membership in the guilds was usually through inheritance along the male line. There are no cases of a woman being in a position of management, unless her husband died and the craft guild allowed her to continue the family business. However, when aristocratic and noblewomen were the primary patron of a construction project, they did exert influence on the design and management of the project. There are several studies that describe women‘s patronage of architectural projects in Europe as well as Byzantine and Muslim world, which can be found in the bibliographies of the works cited in this paper. This recent research can contribute significant resource material for construction educators.