Mere fragments of information survive on the livelihoods of self-sufficient working-class women, single mothers and widows. However, we do know that in the early nineteenth century, urban woman living alone or with their children born out of wedlock still earned their living from many temporary jobs, including as washerwomen, cleaners, peddlers, day labourers and sex workers, and even through such criminal means as illicit inn-keeping, shoplifting and theft. None of these provided a full-time livelihood. Alexander Lauréus´s depictions of street, square and inn life are unique visual sources of the work done by these women.
Kirsi Vainio-Korhonen, PhD, is a professor of Finnish history at the University of Turku. She has researched the history of women’s work in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, midwives, maids and sex workers, as well as women who made a living through inn-keeping and peddling. On these subjects, she has written such books as Ujostelemattomat. Kätilöiden, synnytysten ja arjen historia (“Unabashed: History of midwives, childbirth and everyday life”, 2012) and Musta-Maija ja Kirppu-Kaisa. Seksityöläiset 1800-luvun alun Suomessa (“Black Maija and Kaisa the Flea: Sex workers in early nineteenth-century Finland”, 2018).