Women´s trades and professions in the Middle Ages

Panel with Water Seller

This polychrome wooden panel displays a water seller carrying a two-handled pitcher upon her head. It belongs to the lavishly decorated wooden ceiling of the Teruel Cathedral, built at the end of the 13th century, and offers an extensive repertoire of scenes from everyday life. Other ceiling panels depict women extracting water from a well, which speaks to women´s frequent association with fountains, laundry washing spots or rivers throughout the medieval tradition.

During the Middle Ages, women carried out a wide range of jobs and occupations, both inside and outside the family sphere. Providing water, operating and administrating public baths and washing clothes were among the activities handled by women. Women´s work-related practices were remunerated when they took place outside the family setting, but not in the case of jobs undertaken within the home. Similarly, jobs were done in artisans´ and merchants´ workshops, where women handled the same professional tasks as their male relatives, but without receiving any remuneration in return. When the male relatives disappeared, women would take over the operation of such businesses.