Catherine Bishop: Commerce was a Woman

Catherine Bishop dispells the myth that women in the 19th century were confined to the domestic sphere. In fact, women working as small businesswomen or as employees formed a vital part of Sydney’s economy.

In 1858, only 23 out of 322 business listings for Pitt Street were for women. But is this the full story?

William Robson advertised his millinery business in Pitt Street in 1858, yet it’s doubtful that he ever made a bonnet in his life. The real milliner was his wife, Mary Ann, who had been in business there since the 1840s.

Catherine Bishop takes us on a ‘virtual walk’ down Pitt Street in 1858, peeping through windows and looking behind closed doors to reveal the many women who were contributing to the bustle of Pitt Street’s commercial life – running businesses, owning property and living independently.



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