, Volume 34, Issue 2–3, pp 241–259 | Cite as

Different Sources, Different Answers: Aspects on Women's Work in Sundsvall, Sweden, 1860–1893

  • Lotta Vikström


It is often hard to unravel the actual work of women in history. Generally few sources are able to give vital information on their occupational structure. What we know, though, is that a vast majority of women were engaged in domestic work. Servants frequently appear in quantitative data, such as parish registers, poll-taxes, or censuses. Nevertheless, these sources fail to cover what women really were doing in order to pay for their daily bread. But in what ways the occupation reported in the quantitative records disagreed from women's actual work is difficult to judge. Additionally, in many cases these records leave no occupational information on women at all. With the computerized parish registers of the Demographic Data Base at Umeå University, Sweden, it is possible to link alternative information on individual women's work to the quantitative data and build on the picture of women's occupations. Consequently, whereas the parish registers enable us to deal with demographic issues concerning the marital, geographical, and social path of women in the past, the alternative sources formed by local newspapers, patient records, and business statistics offer further information on their life and working conditions. This paper reveals that alternative sources are better than the quantitative data at revealing the often multi-occupational and part-time work of urban women. Newspaper advertisements, announcements, and police reports, for instance, reveal the voices of the otherwise silent women workers and tell us about their urban context. The town and time in focus is Sundsvall in 1860–1893, a Swedish sawmill town situated about 400 kilometers north of Stockholm.

Women's work women's occupation maidservants nineteenth century urbanization Sweden Sundsvall parish registers gender regime 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2003

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lotta Vikström
    • 1
  1. 1.UmeåSWEDEN

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