June 22

In Augsburg, Germany on June 22 1484 was published the first book to be printed by a woman.The book was Sachsenspiegel by Eike von Repgow and the printer was Anna Rügerin.

Frau Rügerin was the widow of a printer. In taking over her late husband’s printing office, she began a tradition in the craft, from this time on there being numerous instances of women continuing to operate printing establishments following the deaths of their husbands. The widow of an employing printer was also less likely to remain in that status for any length of time, frequently marrying one of the journeymen printers. There is, in fact, some logical reasoning behind the explanation sometimes suggested as the origin of the term widow line—a line of less than complete width that begins a page. A printer’s widow rarely remained alone, hence the short line should follow the pattern.

While it was all very well for a widow to take over as a proprietor, printers had different feelings about women working as printers, and there has been a great deal of strife, particularly concerning women compositors who would work for less wages than their male counterparts. In the days of the hand presses, of course, there was little competition from women, but when power presses were introduced they were often employed as feeders. Traditionally the bindery has always been the department in which women have been able to establish themselves, since the male of the species no doubt felt that less skill was necessary for the task of folding and sewing.

In a little book published by Harper & Brothers in 1845 describing the methods of bookmaking in the firm’s printing plant, an illustration shows women feeding the power presses. There were thirty machines in the pressroom and all were fed by female help. The typefoundry attached to the plant also employed women in a number of the finishing operations in producing type.

There remained, however, a great deal of opposition to women working at the trade. In 1893 a printing trade publication commented editorially upon a story which appeared in the New York Sun about a woman who had worked for thirty years as a printer and had made a success of it. The lady was quoted as saying, “The girl who is thinking about an occupation, with a view to making it support her, might do a great deal worse than to learn the printer’s trade.”

The magazine stated, “Let us tell our women that the girl who is thinking about an occupation with a view to making it support her might do a great deal better than to learn the printer’s trade.”

Most of the arguments against the female printer were based upon economics. The Sun article went on to say, “Her pay is $18 a week, which is a very good salary indeed, as women’s wages run,” and here the trade magazine italicised the remainder of the quote, “though it may be remarked in passing that she replaced a man at $22.”

“Just merely in passing!” exclaimed the periodical, which enjoyed an exclusively male readership, no doubt. With lightly veiled sarcasm, the editorial continued, “Women would be more valuable, of course, if they didn’t require so much waiting on. If an office employs five or six women, it has to employ a boy to do odd things for them, or they will bother the men employees so much asking to have lifted or carried that men won’t work in the office.”

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