Women’s Book History for Women’s History Month
If you visit the “Curious Remedies” exhibit this month, be on the lookout for a small, nondescript book of medicine by Nicholas Culpeper. This item was published in 1684 by Hannah Sawbridge.
Hannah was the widow of George Sawbridge, one of the most successful London printers and booksellers of the 17th century. Sawbridge’s firm printed royal Patents and published and sold a variety of books, including popular medical works like Culpeper’s. Sawbridge also held major leadership posts in the Stationer’s Company of London, the trade organization for printers and booksellers.
After George died in 1681, Hannah carried on the family business until 1686. In 17th century England, it was common for the widows of printers and publishers to own and operate businesses in the book trades (sometimes in cooperation with their children). More women participated in the book trades as booksellers than as printers or publishers. The names of many of these women appear in the archives of the Stationers’ Company — around 8% of recorded names in the 16th and 17th centuries are women.
Researchers interested in sources for women’s participation in this period print history can consult a microfilm copy of the Stationer’s Company archives here in Special Collections or can consult Henry Plomer’s multivolume Dictionary of the booksellers and printers who were at work in England, Scotland and Ireland at the Humanities Reference area on level 5 of the library.