"Had we ten Hands . . ."
December 2, 2015 9:52 AM   Subscribe

In 1739, an English washer-woman named Mary Collier published a long poem called "The Woman's Labour" about the difficulties faced by working women. Her poem was a response to The Thresher's Labour by Stephen Duck, which mocked the poetic conceit that agricultural workers spend a pleasant time in nature, and took a few pot shots at women along the way: "Ah! were their Hands so active as their Tongues/ How nimbly then would move the Rakes and Prongs?" Collier refutes Duck's criticisms and describes women's added labour:
You sup, and go to Bed without delay,
And rest yourselves till the ensuing Day;
While we, alas! but little Sleep can have,
Because our froward Children cry and rave . . .
Along the way, her poem provides lots of interesting information about material culture and the labor women no longer do, such as polishing pewter and staying up late to brew beer.
posted by yarntheory (10 comments total) 82 users marked this as a favorite
This is the kind of thing I love Metafilter for. Epic feminist takedowns of the ages. In the bit on hay-making, you learn that the Second Shift has always been a thing. She works in the fields just like him, then she has to go home, clean house, and make supper/take care of kids.
posted by emjaybee at 10:49 AM on December 2, 2015 [12 favorites]

Wow, some hard-hitting stuff there:
No Learning ever was beſtow'd on me ;
My Live was always ſpent in Drudgery :
And not alone ; alas ! with Grief I find,
It is the Portion of poor Woman-kind.
Since you have Liberty to ſpeak your Mind,
And are to talk, as well as we, inclin'd
Why ſhould you thus repine, becauſe that we,
Like you, enjoy that pleaſing Liberty ??
What ! would you lord it quite, and take away
The only Privilege our Sex enjoy ?
When Ev'ning's come, you Homeward take your Way,
We, till our Work is done, are forc'd to ſtay ;
And after all our Toil and Labour paſt,
Six-pence or Eight-pence pays us off at laſt ;
For all our Pains, no Proſpect can we ſee
Attend us, but Old Age and Poverty.
I can't believe I've never heard of Mary Collier or her poem; thanks very much for the post!
posted by languagehat at 10:50 AM on December 2, 2015 [6 favorites]

Very poignant. Thanks for sharing this.
posted by delight at 11:03 AM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Throwing ſhade.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:23 AM on December 2, 2015 [33 favorites]

Were this your Caſe, you juſtly might complain
That Day nor Night you are ſecure from Pain ;
Thoſe mighty Troubles which perplex your Mind,
(Thiſtles before, and Females come behind)
Would vaniſh ſoon, and quickly diſappear,
Were you, like us, encumber'd thus with Care.
posted by melissasaurus at 11:36 AM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is fantastic, thank you for posting it.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:06 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

For more poetry by 18th c. working-class women, try Mary Leapor and the more famous Ann Yearsley. Yearsley in particular is a notorious example of how such poets (both male and female) wound up being patronized, in both its positive and negative connotations, by those higher up the social scale.
posted by thomas j wise at 12:19 PM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

Great post! I never heard of Stephen bloody Duck and don't feel like I missed much. Mary Collier, on the other hand, I wish I had studied in my innumerable English lit classes (and there were a lot, given it was my major).
posted by Athanassiel at 4:43 PM on December 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

This is awesome, thank you!
posted by bardophile at 11:13 PM on December 2, 2015 [1 favorite]

Big props to Roger Lonsdale for bringing all this stuff back into currency in the first place.
posted by Mocata at 1:51 AM on December 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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