Women Earning a Living in the 19th Century from Charlene Raddon

A big welcome to Charlene Raddon who is joining us today to talk about jobs women could have in the 1800s.

Women in the 1800s could not make contracts, own property or vote. A woman was seen as a servant to her husband. However, by the 1830s and 1840, that began to change when they started to champion social reforms of prisons, war, alcohol, and slavery. But life remained difficult for them. Jobs were scarce and often unbearable. 

In 1841, the census included occupations and provided some of the best information about working women, but it was more accurate for men. Women’s work was often part-time, casual, and not regarded as important enough to declare. 

It might have been illegal (as with prostitution) or performed in unregulated sweatshops (a further reason for failure to record). Women may have preferred their husbands not know they earned any income. They could earn small amounts at home by sewing, mending, knitting, canning, spinning, lacemaking, quilting, and even box-making. 

Female employment in the 1850s, 60s, and 70s appears to have been higher than any recorded until after World War II. Family budget evidence suggests that around 30-40 percent of women from working-class families contributed significantly to household incomes in the mid-Victorian years. This might have been even higher during the Industrial Revolution decades, before the rise of State and trade union policies regulating female labor and the promotion of the male as the ideal breadwinner. After the Industrial Revolution in the U.S. some women worked in factories, sometimes with their children. In 1840, 10% of women had jobs outside the home, and by 1850 that number increased to 15%. 

Domestic service was the largest employer for women, closely followed by work in clothing and textiles. Other jobs included confectioner, brewer, seamstress, laundress, maid, housekeeper, waitress, midwife, gardener, dressmaker, charwoman, clerk, and innkeeper. In some areas, they worked in mines alongside children, dirty, unhealthy, miserable labor. 

For my heroine in Maisy’s Gamble, dealing faro in saloons proved a better choice for its earning power and safety since her nemesis considered ordinary saloons beneath him. Being born in a brothel and raised in a gutter gave Gold Kingsley an exaggerated disdain for the type of life his mother lived. Maisy used this to her advantage. 

Dealing faro also allowed her to move around a lot, making her more difficult to find. She spent her adult years raising her son and finding ways to evade Gold. But time is against us all, and she knew he would find her someday. Fortunately, that day waited until the hero, The Preacher, came into her life. 

The Preacher spent his adult years allowing the vagaries of life to rule him. That ended once Maisy entered his life. Bonded by a common enemy and the need to stay alive, Maisy and Preacher joined forces to battle Gold, but only time could calculate their odds of winning the biggest gamble of their lives. 



In this scene, a patron in the saloon where Maisy works is mistreating his dog. 

On impulse, Maisy stood and said, “Play me for him, Mr. Siddens. One hand of Draw. I’ll wager twenty dollars I can beat you. If you lose, the animal is mine, and you leave Pandora.” 

Crude laughter burst out of the man, splattering her with spit. “Ya joshing me, Maisy? He ain’t worth a plugged nickel.” 

Marshal  Harker moved to her side. “What are you doing?” 

She ignored him. “Well, Mr. Siddens…?” 

The drunken bully looked from her to the marshal and shrugged. “Why not? I don’t mind takin’ money from a woman.” 

Harker leaned close and whispered, “He’s drunk and cheats.” 

“I know. Don’t worry. I can beat him.” 

Shaking his head, the marshal lifted his hands in resignation. “Fine. One hand of Draw. But win or lose, Mr. Siddens, you’re done tonight.” 

“Whatever ya say, Marshal.” With that, Siddens righted the chair he’d knocked over, sat down, and gathered up the scattered pasteboards. 

Taking the opposite seat, Maisy drew a sealed deck from her skirt pocket. “You don’t truly think I’d let you use your cards, do you? I’ve known too many gamblers who cheat.” 

“Why, you…” He raised a hand, ready once more to strike out. At the cocking of a six-gun, Siddens dropped his arm and sat back. 

Maisy looked up surprised to see Preacher slip his Colt back into its holster. He tipped his hat, and she acknowledged it with a nod. Why had he protected her? Did it mean he didn’t work for Gold, or had Gold ordered that she be kept alive until he got his hands on her? 

“Maisy?” Jake said, bringing her back to herself. 

Determined to finish what she’d started, she reached into the small drawstring purse dangling from her wrist to find a gold eagle, which she placed on the table. 

Eyeing the coin, Siddens sneered, “Want me ta put the dawg on the table, too?” 

She forced a smile. “We’ll just pretend, shall we?” She shuffled and offered him the deck to cut. After dealing, she picked up her cards. An ace, two jacks, a ten, and a five. After setting the ten and the five aside, she placed the remaining three cards face down on the table. “How many would you like, Mr. Siddens?” 

“Three shiny new ones,” he said, tossing down his discards. 

She dealt the cards. “Dealer takes two.” 

Aware of the mob gathered around the table, Maisy let her eyes roam the faces, quickly passing over Preacher’s. The spectators murmured among themselves, and money exchanged hands. 

“Well, Mr. Siddens, what do you have?” she asked. 

He grinned as he spread out three queens on the table. “Three ladies. Can’t top that, now can ya, sugar?” He laughed and swapped grins with a few men. 

She smiled and laid down her cards—three aces and two jacks—a full house. 

“What the…?” Siddens leaped to his feet. “Marshal, arrest her. She musta cheated.” 

Jake gave his head a firm shake. “No, she’s just a damned fine player.” 

Grumbles erupted from losers as bets were paid off. Maisy called for paper and a pencil. When they arrived, she set them in front of Siddens and ordered him to write out a bill of sale. 

“Bill o’ sale!” he ranted. “I didn’t sell the mutt. I got cheated out o’ ‘im.” 


Siddens did. “Damned dawg ain’t no good nohow.” 

The crowd dispersed. A deputy appeared to escort the gambler from the saloon. 

Back at her table, she settled the dog on the floor in the warmth of the stove and called for food scraps and a wet cloth to clean the animal’s wounds. “I think I’ll call you Hock,” she told him, “after the last card played in a hand of faro. When we go home, you’ll meet Soda. She’s named after the first card played.” 

He wagged his tail as if he approved. 

Jake Harker returned and took his usual seat, grinning at her. “Dammit, Maisy, I can’t believe you pulled that off. That piece of crap is a good card player, even without cheating.” 

“Yes, well, two can play at that game.” 

He stared at her a moment. “You mean what I think you mean?” Leaning forward, he gave her a stern look. “Did you cheat, Maisy?” 

Avoiding his gaze, she began arranging her faro gear on the table. “Someone had to get the poor animal away from him. He’s a brute, and you know it.” 

Charlene is giving away two prizes today!

To enter for a chance to win a copy of Maisy’s Gamble OR a $5 Amazon gift card, just share what type of work you might have done if you’d lived in the 1800s!


Charlene Raddon is a bestselling author of Western historical romance novels. Originally published by Kensington Books, she is now an Indie author. She grew up on old western movies and loved them, but never intended to be a writer. That part of her life just happened. Besides writing and reading, she raises orchids, designs book covers, and crochets. 


Women in History – Laura Stockton Starcher

March is Women in History month. Each Saturday, I’ve been shining a spotlight on a woman from the past who did something extraordinary, like Fern Hobbs, known as the girl who tamed a wild West town, and Minnie Hill, the second licensed female steamboat captain in the country.

Today, I thought I’d share a little about a woman who did something so remarkable, I’m not sure many women today would attempt the feat – she defeated her husband to become mayor of their town!

In 1916, Laura Stockton Starcher defeated her husband twenty-six to eight to become mayor of Umatilla, Oregon, a small Eastern Oregon town of not quite two hundred, in what became known as the Petticoat Revolution.

Laura Jane Stockton was born in parents moved to Parma, Idaho, where she lived for many years in Idaho before moving to Oregon. No details were available on how and when she met her husband, E.E. Starcher, but in 1912, the couple moved to Umatilla, a town located on the southern bank of the Columbia River. It was a community where most everyone knew everyone else.

It was also a place where laws were slackly enforced and city improvement had ground to a standstill. Instead of progressing into the new century, it was sliding back toward a the days gambling and lawlessness.

The women of the town decided to do something about it.

Under the guise of a card party held at the home of Mrs. C.G. Bromwell, (her husband was a city council member), the women discussed the particulars of who would run for which office and agreed to quietly, discreetly seek support without revealing the details.

On the morning of December 5, 1916, no one expected a big voter turnout. The same men had held the same town office positions for years. The polls opened at eight that morning with men sauntering in to vote. No one even bothered to order ballots. Names were written on a slip of paper and dropped into the poll box.

Since no women arrived to vote in the morning, although Oregon had given them the right in 1912), it seemed men assumed they were at home doing their daily tasks of cleaning and cooking.

Much to the shock of the men in town, women arrived at the polls around two that afternoon and they wrote names on those slips. Names that would upend the present councilmen.

Only 38 votes were cast for the mayoral position, but Laura beat her husband 26-8 (and the other four votes are lost to history).

Laura Stockton Starcher was voted in as Mayor of Umatilla. Lola Merrick became town treasurer. Bertha Cherry was elected auditor. Gladys Spinning, Florence Brownell, H.C. Means, C.G. Bromwell, and Stella Paulu took all but two of the city councilmen seats.

Perhaps the most stunned person in town that day was Laura’s husband, the current mayor. He had no idea his wife intended to run against him, and demanded a recount, but the results were the same. The women had received the majority of the votes.

In an interview in the the Idaho Statesman,  Laura said, “Well, my husband’s administration claimed that the reason it accomplished so little for the city was that it was impossible to get the entire council, or even a quorum, out. Now, I intend to get my council out in this way. We will all be women except the two holdovers, men, who, I understand, are going to learn to do fancy work, in order to feel at home with us, and I shall turn the city council meetings into afternoon teas if necessary, in order to be sure of the full council being present.”

At first, the election made humorous news throughout the nation, referred to as the “Petticoat Government.” The women were often referenced in publications by their married initials: the new mayor, Laura Starcher, was listed as Mrs. E.E. Starcher. Regardless, the women soon proved that they were  serious about their newly elected positions.

In her first public address, Laura stated: “Umatilla will be given a business administration and a progressive administration. We believe the women can do many things and effect many reforms in this town that the men did not dare do. We propose to replace the electric street lights, which the present administration removed, clean up and improve the streets, lay sewers and do everything we can to improve the physical and moral health of Umatilla. We shall enforce the laws strictly.”

Within a month, the Laura and her council members had paid the outstanding balance of the town’s electric bill and installed several new street lights.

During the next four years, the council funded projects to improve streets and sidewalks, improved electrical and water maintenance, and created the city’s first “Cleanup Weeks.” They also founded a town library, designed a plan for monthly garbage pickup, and appointed a city health official during the 1918 smallpox epidemic.

Sadly, Laura only served less than a year due to illness. Stella Paula took over the position and when she was elected mayor in 1918.

In 1920, an all-male council was voted in, but the ladies of Umatilla had proven a point. The women could govern as well as the men (and sometimes better!).

Although there is no mention of it, a woman claiming to be Laura’s niece later stated that the Starcher’s divorced after the election, and Laura suffered from health issues some called “nervous breakdowns.”

At any rate, Laura stepped up and because a symbol of courage and hope to women across the country, particularly when some women still fighting for the right to vote.

Laura eventually returned to Idaho and she passed away in Parma on May 2, 1960.

What woman (famous or otherwise) has had an impact on your life?

Share your comment for a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card and a digital copy of Quinn.





She’s waging a war for women’s rights

He’s fighting a battle to win her heart. . .

There’s nothing typical about Quinn Fairfield. The outspoken suffragette spends her days writing sensational headlines as a newspaper reporter and indulging her natural curiosity. She’s much more likely to be found riding a bicycle around town than learning the social graces at which her sister, Caitlyn, excels. When Caitlyn announces her plans to wed a man Quinn doesn’t trust, she sets out to find a reason to break up the happy couple. In the process, she finds herself falling for an intriguing, kind-hearted man.

After spending several years in Portland at college, Walker Williams returns to Pendleton, eager to make his mark on the world. He’s determined to become a legendary architect despite the challenges that arise from his upbringing on the nearby Umatilla Reservation. When a feisty red-headed newspaper reporter catches his eye and captures his heart, Walker fights his growing feelings for her. He’ll do anything to shelter Quinn from the prejudices aimed at him and his heritage.

Can the two of them overcome their fears, set aside the burdens of the past, and surrender to the sweet romance blossoming between them?

Filled with laughter, adventure, and historical tidbits from 1912, Quinn is a sweet historical romance brimming with hope and love.