Women in the 18th Century Lyons Book-Trade
Women in the 18th-century Lyons book trade 
In a text entitled « Women in the Booktrade in eighteenth-century France», published by the British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies in 1992, Geraldine Sheridan , could write : « [...] It has been accepted as a truism by historians of the booktrade that the role of [French women] was negligible, and limited to that of printer's or publisher's widow, a mere figurehead for an enterprise effectively run by a foreman until the widow found a suitable husband to assume control of her spouse's business...» At the time she wrote, only a few studies had focused on this topic, and concerned merely the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries . Since that publication, a few others have been given : C.J. Mitchell's « Women in the Eighteenth-Century Book Trades» , Sabine Juratic's « Les femmes dans la librairie parisienne au XVIIIe siècle» , and Annie Charon's « Les femmes libraires à la Renaissance» . Today's paper would like to present you a French provincial case, the one of Lyons, the second printing place of the kingdom all through the Ancient Regime period. Last year in Cambridge, I had given a first glimpse at a prosographical inquiry in progress about Lyons eighteenth-century bookfolk . I must admit that the first title given to this national inquiry was « Les Hommes du livre» (Bookmen). We have been obliged to turn it into « Les gens du livre» (Bookfolk), because of the place taken by women in this little world. In fact, women were not so numerous in our biographical files. On 683 persons, for which we have gathered information, are included 618 men (90,48%), 61 widows (8,93 %) ; and only 4 alone women (0,6%). As you can see, the role played by widows was central, but our files show that other women could also take an important part to the book publication and circulation.
My purpose will be to study first those I shall call « les petites mains» (handy girls), then the widows, but also to show that some alone women could run a shop. I shall conclude on the role played by some of these women to introduce prohibited books in the city.
Number of cases
Cabinets de lecture
Playing cards makers
Fondeurs de caractères
Binders and Gilders
1) « Handy girls» - « Les Petites mains »
They have certainly been numerous to be employed to several tasks in the printing workshops or booksellers shops, but the archives scarcely mention them, and when it is the case, even their names are often omitted. We can only mention a few examples in which their presence is attested.
Contrarily to the British case, the French law excluded women from apprenticeship and from the trade of printer or publisher. The first problem is to know wether women have been employed in printing workshops as type-setters or even as presswomen, as it sometimes happened at the Renaissance. We have no certitude about these possibilities, but only doubts. Few of them might have been able to read well enough for such tasks. By the royal inquiry of 1701 , we know that the widow Talebart, who owned four good presses, had for journeymen « two sons and a girl». But what was this latter's real task ? On the 1st of december of the same year, printer Rolin Glaize was denounced to the authorities for employing Joutet's wife and four daughters, who had made no apprentice training . Once again, what was their real job ? They might have been employed to prepare printed sheets for binding. The other known cases concern stitchers. In 1722, a girl named Esparcieu was interrogated by the police in a piracy affair. She worked at the third storey of a house located place Confort, and her job was « to fold bindings for the booksellers» (« à plier les reliures pour les libraires») . A few years later, Jeanne Allard, « book stitcher, Paradise street» (brocheuse de livres, rue Paradis) appears in an inheritance affair . In 1787, abbé Duret described the printer Delamollière printing workshop  : « where there are two clerks, apart from Mr. Piestre two young nephews or cousins , a stitcher girl, then a printing worskshop with seven presses, the type-setters, the proof-reader, in the whole more than twenty employed people.»
It happened that some of these women worked secretly, like this Françoise Sordillon, whose tools were confiscated in 1705 . She was accused by the binders gild of working without any right nor quality.
These few examples are the only ones found in the archives. There is no doubt that women employed by the binders have been more numerous. It is even possible that other girls or women occasionally worked in printing workshops, especially in little ones where a father could sometimes need help. But in such cases, they probably worked more like sheet-folders than as type-setters. We must admit that this apect of the daily reality is definitively out of reach for the historian.
2) The widows
In Lyons as in Paris, the legislation authorised widows to run their defunct husbands shop or workshop . They usually did so, till a son could succeed his father, or till a daughter could marry a journeyman in order to take over the business. The widows professionnal implication could last a few months or a year, but a few of them have worked for long years. For instance, we know the case of Benoît Coral's widow (Jeanne Caissis), who managed her workshop for more than seventeen years. But their number remained marginal. For the 17th century Lyon, Simone Legay in her thesis  has only found 6% of widows on the 312 bookprinters and booksellers she studied. As we said before, we have only found 61 widows for the 18th century, that is to say about 9% of our sample, which is not limited to these two crafts. Let us remind that in eighteenth century Paris, a quarter of the booksellers was composed of widows, which is far more.
We must confess that the widows work has often been impeded by the legislation. They were, for instance, precluded from taking on new apprentices under their own name, but any apprentice indentured to their late husbands could serve out his time under the widows. Their production has often been limited to one or two titles published per year, but there are too some noticeable exceptions. In fact, as almost all printers or booksellers wiwes, they had been associated to their husbands' work since their wedding. Many of these unpaid wiwes run the bookshops while their husbands directed the printing workshops, in the houses storeys. Here is for instance the case of Antoine Briasson's wife, who is said in 1690 « to occupy herself the whole day long in the shop to sell books and make tapestry» . Many of them received notarial procurations from their husbands to run and administrate the houses while they were on professionnal journeys. So the wiwes could prepare themselves to take the affair head if necessary. But in case of widowing, we must admit that a preponderant role was taken by the printshop foreman, especially for all technical questions. That could represent for a foreman a good opportunity of marrying a widow without a son, or a daughter, and to become a master. In fact, the widow could have little understanding of the job.
We shall close this chapter by the evocation of a few portraits.
Here is for instance Barbe Compagnon, daughter of a bookseller, and the printer Horace Molin's wife since 1684. In 1698, Horace Molin (1654-1701) was interned for madness. He died in 1701. The eldest son was only 10. Barbe Compagnon run the workshop, first in association with her brother-in-law (1700-1704) , then alone, till her death in december 1709.
We can also mention the case of Etiennette Roland, Christophe Reguilliat's widow. She has been active from 1768, nine years after her husband's death, to 1791, and was then used as a figure-head by her son Jean-Baptiste Reguilliat, deposited in 1767 for having published a prohibited book : Rousseau's Contrat social. Her son had died in 1771. She went on running the affair for about twenty more years.
Our last example will be a type-caster : Antoinette Porte. Her husband, Antoine de la Colonge had been active since 1697. He died in 1740. She has succeded him till her death in 1766. Her son Louis de La Collonge worked in association with her in 1752-1754, before creating his own workshop and inhereting his mother's one .
All these widows remained on the profession margins, but some of them have really been important characters on the Lyons scene. All of them have played an important role in the workshops transmission from a generation to another, especially among century-old dynasties.
3) The shopkeepers - Les boutiquières
A few number of women did not hesitate to launch into the selling of books and booklets, though being on the edge of legality. Some of them deliberately chose unlawfulness, like this carpenter's spouse named Boucharlat, designated as « revenderesse» (second-hand dealer), who owned a bookstall on which 98 volumes were seized in 1708. She had to appear before a court of justice, but once again we ignore the end of the affair .
Several women are known for having held shops, on their own. Some of these shops could be real bookshops, like in the case of the misses Ollier as we shall see. Others looked rather like stores in which some booklets could sometimes be on sale. It is to this second group that belonged the widow Philiberte Machard, also called Marchand, who married about 1760 a squire named Taupin Dorval , who was a scandalous booklet author. Miss Marchand was also the printer Louis Cutty's niece. He probably printed some of the publications she sold. She was « marchande publique» in Ecorcheboeuf street, which is to say that, though she was a woman, she was authorized to run her shop without her husband permission. Her shop was searched by the police in february 1760, because she was selling an unauthorized booklet on a quarrel about the Picpus order . Eight booklets were found « on the shop bench, against the windows». She said she did not know their content, for she was unable to read or write, and that she had received them from a Picpus brother. Later, we find her again playing the role of an agent between her husband and the pedlars in charge of selling his scandalous and pornographical publications. There is no doubt that, excepted these cases known by justice sources, her trade was partly to sell booklets, authorized or not.
On the contrary, the misses Ollier run an official bookstore. They unfortunately remain partly unknown, and the name seems to recover several persons. They probably belonged to an ancient booksellers family, for a bookseller named André Olier died aged 80 in 1705. Then appears an Antoine Ollier who was active till 1747. His widow held the shop in 1758, and sold Theater booklets. The first misses Ollier probably are this widow and her daughter Marie. The latter was still active in 1768. The shop still existed at the beginning of the Revolution, and at that period was probably run by her niece, Eleonore Bertaud, also named Miss Ollier, who was executed after the Lyons siege of 1793. In fact, two or three generations of misses Ollier have run the shop for about half a century. Marie Ollier and Eleonore Bertaud are in fact the only spinsters we know. Such a transmission of a bookshop to daughters was rare, but a few examples have been found for Paris'case. They often received police visits when pirated or prohibited books affairs occurred, because Marie Ollier had a heavy past . Then in Paris, she had been arrested in 1733, in 1736 with another woman , and imprisonned at the Fort-l'Evêque, for having sold prohibited books. She was arrested a third time in 1741, and sent to the Bastille, for the diffusion of the first edition of Dom Bougre portier des chartreux, a pornographical title. Policeman Dubut then wrote : « I have arrested them once, I do not remember what book I found in her home. They gave games in Paris, apart from that they were always involved in printing and distributing prohibited books».
Even if Marie Ollier became wiser with age, her sulphureous reputation remained... and the police remembered !
4) The smugglers - Les passeuses
There are some occasions in which we can wonder what real role some women played. I would like to present the Mesplet's case , in which three printing journeymen wives were arrested on the Guillottière bridge, on august 29th 1747, carrying prohibited books hidden under their skirts. The case has not been completely cleared up, and we ignore its legal issue. For three women arrested, how many others succeeded in introducing forbidden books in the city ? We cannot prevent us from wondering wether these women acted on their husbands employers'order, or secretly for their husbands, or may be on their own in order to get some money. Far away from the anecdote, and in spite of the archives silence, the case appears as revealing of an usual pratice. Let us say that it is also, in a certain way, linked to Canadian history.
On november 22nd 1747, Jean Tisseur customs officer testified in front of the Lyons Presidial judges  that on august 29th, at 8 in the evening, three women coming from the Guillotière suburb had been interrogated at the customs office, on the Rhone bridge, to know wether they did not try to enter prohibited goods. After a negative answer, the witness noticed that each of them had parcels hidden under their skirts and in their pockets. He recognized that these goods were latin printed sheets of a prohibited and injurious book printed in Avignon. The three women declared to be called Evillot, Servet and Mesplex, all living in Lyons and working to bind books. They added that they were coming from a tavern of La Guillotière called « the round Table», where they had received the printed sheets, in order to bring them to Lyons and to bind them. The three women were immediately jailed.
Two of them only were stooges, and were released after three weeks in prison. The first was Françoise Jutet, aged about thirty, wife of a printing journeyman named Antoine Ecullioz. The second was Antoinette Girard, aged 53, wife of a binding journeyman called Jean Servet. She might have been a relative of the third one and of the Avignon printer François Girard, but we have no proof of that.
The most responsable, the one who admitted to have organized the affair, though she pretented to be unable to read and write, was of another stamp. She confessed that « though her husband was a printer [in fact, a printing journeyman], she did not take a hand in anything in his job, and that she had not felt the consequences of her act...» She added that the carter told her that her brother-in-law  [the Avignon printer François-Prothade Girard] would be pleased to have the copies available as soon as possible, and that, for such a purpose, she had to avoid bringing them to the syndical chamber, where they could stay for a long time. While her associates were released, she remained in prison. We ignore the end of this affair, and her possible sentencing.
This woman was Antoinette Capeau, aged 45, silk-reeler, wife of a printer journeyman from Mercière street named Jean Mesplet. She was too the sister of Marguerite Capeau, wife of the Avignon printer François-Prothade Girard. He was the publisher of the seized publication entitled De suprema romani Pontificis auctoritate, hodierna Ecclesiae gallicanae doctrine [sic].
Let us first notice the links between two important places for piracies : Lyons and Avignon, the latter being under pontifical domination and escaping the French legislation. Let us then consider the Mesplet family. Antoinette Capeau's husband was Jean Mesplet, born in Agen. Lagrave , his son's Canadian biographer writes that he was a printer, but it is a mistake. He settled in Lyons in 1738, and worked till his death in 1760 as a printer journeyman, or at the best as a foreman. He never owned any printworkshop. We know three of their children. Two of them are noteworthy. There is few to say about Marguerite, born in Lyons in 1738. The eldest daughter, Charlotte-Marie-Thérèse Mesplet, was born in 1726, in an unknown place. She died in Anvers in 1802. She had married, in 1760, Jean-François de Los Rios , and received for the occasion a dowry of 3 000 pounds from her Avignon aunt. Her husband born in Anvers is well-known as a Lyons antiquarian bookseller, auction sales organizer, and prohibited books provider. The couple left Lyons for the Low Countries in 1798, or about. But the most well-known member of the family was the son, Fleury Mesplet. Born in the Accoules parish of Marseilles in 1734, and after a printing apprentice training in Lyons, he became, from 1755 to 1759, the manager of his aunt Capeau's workshop in Avignon, after François-Prothade Girard's death. Although he is unknown to René Moulinas' study of the Avignon presses , he has been this workshop real runner during these years. He settled in London in 1773. After having been jailed for reasons unknown to us, he was sent to Québec. He died in Montréal in 1794. He had married in 1765 Marie Mirabeau, born in 1746, who died too in Montréal in 1789. He had opened there a new printing workshop, and published on June 3rd 1778 the Gazette du commerce et littéraire pour la ville et district de Montréal, the first French Canadian paper . Today, a slab affixed on a house of the rue Mercière, the printers street, reminds his memory in Lyons.
This paper may look like a portrait gallery in which anecdote plays the first part. This is not quite right. I have not focused on the widows'case, on purpose. Their situation in Lyons is rather similar to the one described for Paris or other places. More unexpected is the appearance of all these girls employed by printers, booksellers and above all binders. This handygirls army of nameless and faceless ghosts played a much more crucial role than the archives chance let it hardly suppose today. Finally, women could also interfere in providing prohibited books.
The widows'case, the most well-known, must not hide the others. It is not totally by chance if all these women, considered as minors by the legislation, played on the margins, and often broke the laws. May these few words have given a not too false idea of a restless world, in which women role was not so negligible than it has been said before !
Copyright Dominique VARRY 1998
 - This paper has been presented at the Society for the History of Authorship Reading and Publishing conference, held at the Simon Fraser University, Vancouver, July 15th-22nd 1998.
 - SHERIDAN (Geraldine), « Women in the Booktrade in Eighteenth-century France», British Journal for Eighteenth Century Studies, 1992, vol. 15, n· 1, p. 51-69.
 - DAVIS (Nathaly ZEMON), « Women in the arts mécaniques in sixteenth-century Lyon», Hommes et sociétés, mélanges offerts à Richard Gascon, Lyon, Presses universitaires de Lyon, 1980, tome 1, p. 139-167. BEECH (S.), « Charlotte Guillard, a sixteenth century business woman», Renaissance Quarterly, 36, 1983, p. 345-367.
POSTEL-LECOCQ (Sylvie), « Femmes et presses à Paris au XVIe siècle : quelques exemples», Le Livre dans l'Europe de la Renaissance. Actes du XVIIIe colloque international d'études humanistes de Tours, Paris, Promodis, 1988, p. 253-263.
 - MITCHELL (C. J.), « Women in the Eighteenth-Century Book Trades», Writers, Books and Trade. An Eighteenth-Century English Miscellany for William B. Todd, edited by O. M. BRASH junior, New-York, 1994, p. 25-75.
 - JURATIC (Sabine), « Les femmes dans la librairie parisienne au XVIIIe siècle», L'Europe et le livre. Réseaux et pratiques du négoce de librairie XVIe-XIXe siècles, sous la direction de Frédéric BARBIER, Sabine JURATIC, Dominique VARRY, Paris, Klincksieck, 1996, p. 247-276.
 - CHARON (Annie), « Les femmes libraires à la Renaissance», paper presented at the conference Des Femmes et des Livres, held in Paris, Ecole nationale des chartes, april 30th 1998, (forthcoming).
 - VARRY (Dominique), « Round about the Rue Mercière : the 18th century Lyon Bookfolk», paper presented at the Society for the History of Authorship Reading and Publishing conference, held at Magdalene College, Cambridge, July 3rd-8th 1997. Readable on my website : http://membres.lycos.fr/domvarry/sharp1997.html
 - Bibliothèque nationale de France : mss NAF 399.
 - Lyons municipal Archives : HH 103.
 - Lyons municipal Archives : HH 101, Viret versus Molin.
 - Rhône departemental Archives : 3E 2882.
 - Lyons public Library : mss 805 : Abbé Duret : Nouvelles générales et particulières de Lyon (1760-1794), f. 202 : « où il y a deux commis, outre deux jeunes gens neveux ou cousins du sieur Piètre. Une brocheuse, puis une imprimerie de sept presses, à deux hommes par presse, les compositeurs, le correcteur, en tout plus de vingt personnes employées».
BODEAU (Florence) et COLLIGNON (Laure), Le Monde du livre à Lyon au XVIIIe siècle à travers les chroniques de l'abbé Duret (1760-1794), Villeurbanne, Enssib, mémoire de formation à la recherche, june 1998, p. 22.
 - Lyons municipal Archives : HH 103, july 16th 1705.
 - Lyons : Reglemens et statuts de 1676 :
« Article sixième
Sera permis aux veuves de Marchands Libraires de cette dite Ville, qui continueront le Négoce, de faire parachever aux Apprentis de leurs défunts Maris le temps restant de leur apprentissage, sans qu'il leur soit permis d'en prendre d'autres pendant leur viduité, & en cas qu'elles se remarient, leurs nouveaux maris ne pourront exercer ledit negoce de marchandises de Librairie, ny estre recus Marchands Libraires qu'ils n'ayent satisfait à ce present Reglement, ou du moins qu'ils n'ayent servy pendant deux années les Marchands Libraires de cette Ville ou d'ailleurs, après le temps porté par ledit apprentissage . Ce présent Article ne derogeant en aucune maniere aux autres de ce Reglement qu'à l'égard de ceux qui épouseront cy-après les Veuves ou Filles des Marchands Libraires de cette Ville.»
Paris : Edit du Roy pour le reglement des imprimeurs et libraires de Paris ; registré en Parlement le 21 aoust 1686, A Paris, de l'imprimerie de Denys Thierry, 1687.
« Titre VII, Des veuves des imprimeurs et libraires, article XLV.
Les Veuves des Imprimeurs & Libraires pourront continuer le travail dans leurs Imprimeries, & tenir leurs Boutiques, avoir des Compagnons, & faire achever aux Apprentifs de leurs maris défunts le temps de l'apprentissage : ne pourront neanmoins lesdites Veuves prendre aucuns nouveaux apprentifs, ny tenir Boutiques de Libraire ou Imprimerie, au cas quelles se marient, si leurs seconds Maris ayant les qualitez requises n'ont esté receus Maistres.»
 - LEGAY (Simone), Un Milieu socio-professionnel : les libraires lyonnais au XVIIe siècle, thèse de doctorat, université Lumière Lyon 2, 1995, 2 volumes, tome 1, p. 273-283.
 - Rhône departemental Archives : BP 2939, 7 janvier 1690 : « elle s'occupe toute la journée dans la boutique pour vendre des livres et faire de la tapisserie».
 - Rhône departemental Archives : BP 2360, 27 juin 1699 ; BP 3E 5803, 10 novembre 1705.
 - AUDIN (Marius), Les Livrets typographiques des fonderies françaises créées avant 1800, Amsterdam, Gérard Th. Van Heusden, 1964.
DREYFUS (John), French eighteenth century typography, Cambridge, The Roxburghe Club, 1982.
PONOT (René), « La fonderie Delacolonge», communication au colloque La Lumitype-Photon, René Higonnet, Louis Moyroud et l'invention de la photocomposition moderne, Lyon, 20-21 octobre 1994.
 - Lyons municipal Archives : HH 103.
 - VARRY, Dominique, « De la Bastille à Bellecour : une 'canaille littéraire', Taupin d'Orval», Le Livre et l'historien. Etudes offertes en l'honneur du Professeur Henri-Jean Martin, Genève, Droz, 1997, p. 571-582.
 - Lyons municipal Archives : HH 100.
BOUGÉ-GRANDON (Dominique), « Le 'contreporteur' et le confiturier : quelques agents de la diffusion de l'imprimé à Lyon au XVIIIe siècle», Mélanges en l'honneur de Pierre Lelièvre, Paris, Somogy, (forthcoming).
 - Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal : mss 11 459 f· 70 ; mss 11 506 f· 73 ; mss 12 484 ; mss 12 560 ; mss 12 581.
FUNCK-BRENTANO (F.), Les Lettres de cachet à Paris. Etude suivie d'une liste des prisonniers de la Bastille (1659-1789), Paris, 1903, n· 3683.
RAVAISSON-MOLLIEN (F.), Archives de la Bastille. Documents inédits recueillis et publiés par F. Ravaisson, Paris, 1860-1904, 19 volumes, tome 12 p. 209.
WEIL (Françoise), « agents de la diffusion des livres interdits en France au XVIIIe siècle», Diffusion du savoir et affrontement des idées 1600-1770, Festival d'histoire de Montbrison 30 septembre-4 octobre 1992, Montbrison, 1993, p. 269-283.
 - Rhône departemental Archives : 1C 251.
 - Idem : « [...] que ledit jour vingt neuf aoust dernier sur les huit heures du soir le déposant etant audit bureau du Rhosne dans ses fonctions vit arriver du côté du fauxbourg de la guillotiere trois femmes qui furent arrettées au devant dudit bureau par les autres employés qui les interrogerent pour savoir si elles n'entroient aucunes choses suspectes et contraires aux droits et ordres de Sa Majesté, ces femmes repondirent dabord qu'elles ne portoient ny avoient rien de prohibé ; mais les aiant fait entrer dans ledit bureau, le deposant s'aperçut qu'elles avoient chacune des paquets cachés sous leurs jupes et dans leurs poches, lesquels il leur fit exhiber aussitot, et il reconnut que c'etoit des feuilles ou cayers imprimés en latin qui lui parurent traiter de quelque sujet pernicieux et composer plusieurs volumes d'un livre deffendu etant imprimé a avignon ; sur les demandes et interpellations que le témoin fit a ces trois femmes, l'une dit se nomme Evilliot, la seconde Servet et la troisieme Mesplex toutes residantes a lyon, travaillants a la reliure des livres et qu'elles venoient du Logis de la table ronde audit fauxbourg de la guillotiere ou elles avoient reçus lesdits imprimés pour les entrer en cette ville et les y faire relier, ce qui engageat le deposant de donner avis a M. l'intendant de l'arret de ces femmes et de ce qu'on leur avoit trouvé sur elles pour recevoir ses ordres, en consequence desquels les dites trois femmes furent conduites dans les prisons de l'archeveché de cette ville [...] »
 - François-Prothade Girard (1688-1753), Avignon printer.
 - LAGRAVE (Jean-Paul de), Fleury Mesplet (1734-1794) diffuseur des Lumières au Québec, Montréal, Patenaude Editeur Inc., 1985.
 - Anvers 1727-Malines1820.
BOUGÉ-GRANDON (Dominique), « Stratégie et carrière d'un libraire étranger à Lyon dans la seconde moitié du XVIIIe siècle», to be published in the Bulletin du bibliophile.
VARRY (Dominique), « La diffusion sous le manteau : la Société typographique de Neuchâtel et les Lyonnais», L'Europe et le livre.... op. cit., p. 309-332.
Idem, « Les ventes publiques de livres à Lyon aux XVIIe et XVIIIe siècles et leurs catalogues», paper presented at the conference Les Ventes publiques de livres et leurs catalogues, held in Paris, Ecole nationale des chartes, january 15th 1998, (forthcoming).
 - MOULINAS (René), L'Imprimerie, la librairie et la presse à Avignon au XVIIIe siècle, Grenoble, PUG, 1974.
 - LAGRAVE (Jean-Paul de), Fleury Mesplet... op. cit.
THOMAS (Isaiah), The History of Printing in America with a Biography of Printers and an Account of Newspapers by... New-York, Weathervane Books, 1970. (Reprint), p. 599.