Working women, debt, and reputation in early modern Lyon
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This paper analyzes the financial and professional circumstances of two single working women in early-to-mid eighteenth-century Lyon. Using the documents deposited in court for their debt investigations, the author examines the matrix of credit, reputation, and gender to understand the challenges facing working women in an increasingly professionalized world, as well as the ways women sought to appropriately represent themselves in court. Several key challenges working women faced are highlighted; women who did not successfully negotiate these challenges might find themselves in court for debt litigation. These challenges included collecting debts (in specie), activating community and regional patronage networks, exercising control over property, and claiming gendered authority against the threat of male-controlled guilds. In response, both women constructed narratives of charitable activity to refute their charges; the documents submitted to the court evince both women's charitable activity in Lyon. By casting themselves as philanthropists they engaged gender and class categories to create an appropriately feminine reputation that would still allow for transacting money and labor.