Until recent days, women had few rights especially in business and in the rare case they were allowed a professional career, they were by law subject to the control and domination of their husbands and relatives.
Nevertheless, since the 17th Century there are records of powerful and strong women who conducted the family business on their own. According to the records of the Goldsmith’s Company of England, 63 are the women silversmiths between 1697 (when the records start) and the Victorian era. In most cases these women were carrying on the family trade after their partner deceased, some others were working in partnership with brothers or husbands and just a few were partners with men they had no blood relations with.
These women weren’t considered as regular apprentices, although it wasn’t uncommon for them to help in the family shops where they could learn the craft.
Hester Bateman is probably the most iconic example: after learning and working alongside her husband, she inherited the family business at his death and was able not just to successfully conduct the trade with her own mark, but also to train and pass her knowledge to her sons and daughters. Hester is not just a successful business woman, but one of the greatest silversmith of the 18th Century.
Among the talented women who continued the business their husbands began, it is also worth to mention Rebecca Emes. At her husband death she set up a new partnership that lasted almost twenty years exceeding her partner’s fame.
Unfortunately the contributions of women are, apart from rare exceptions, a still neglected aspect of the history of silversmithing. We wish in the future to add the names of all the forgotten female silversmiths to our list of the artists.