March is National Women’s Month and this year’s theme, selected by the National Women’s History Alliance, is “Celebrating the Women Who Tell Our Stories.”
“Throughout 2023, the NWHA will encourage recognition of women, past and present, who have been active in all forms of media and storytelling including print, radio, TV, stage, screen, blogs, podcasts, and more. The timely theme honors women in every community who have devoted their lives and talents to producing art, pursuing truth, and reflecting the human condition decade after decade.
“From the earliest storytellers through pioneering journalists, our experiences have been captured by a wide variety of artists and teachers. These include authors, songwriters, scholars, playwrights, performers, and grandmothers throughout time. Women have long been instrumental in passing on our heritage in word and in print to communicate the lessons of those who came before us. Women’s stories, and the larger human story, expand our understanding and strengthen our connections with each other.”https://nationalwomenshistoryalliance.org
Reflections on Women [Publishers] in History
It is easy to think our experiences, particularly the hard ones, are unique—that they exist solely inside the context of right now. Reading biographies and autobiographical information about others can reset our context.
There are few human experiences that have not happened before, and knowing someone already survived a similar situation doesn’t make our own situation less difficult because pain is not comparable…our pain is always our own. It can, however, offer a perspective for survival and enable us to see a way to rebuild.
I’ve been working in publishing for 30 years. Despite this deep experience I am constantly asked by others to prove myself. It is insufficient to state the years of experience I’ve had…no one will take my word for it anymore. We live in a time of distrust. Also we live in a time when there are so many titles for professional positions, that they are sometimes meaningless without concrete examples.
It is disheartening to experience this doubt over and over, and I can see how this environment of mistrust can make people feel like posers.
Former co-workers, now friends, are the living touch-points of my own history who anchor me and my experience.
Out of curiosity, I searched for “women publishers” on a favorite search engine, and the search resulted in a link that caught my eye—a Wikipedia “List of women printers and publishers before 1800”! The Wikipedia page has an impressive list of women who worked in printing, and the earliest woman actively occupied in printing was Estellina Conat who worked in Mantova, Italy between 1474-1477.
Explore the Women in publishing before 1800 list: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_women_printers_and_publishers_before_1800
Scrolling through the list and reading snippets about how some of these women found themselves in the role of publishing, I drew parallels in our experience. Women publishers from 1800 and earlier worked in a time of distrust, too. However, they were not trusted simply because of their gender. Surely a woman was not capable. Surely her time would be more well spent in lady-like pursuits. The hurdles were not better or worse than the hurdles we face today, but hurdles existed and exist.
My takeaway from my meandering through history was to note their perseverance. They just got on with their business. They did what they needed to do, and when the published piece reached the readers’ hands, it was the news (or a book, or a flyer). Publishing back then was a thing that happened behind the scenes. Several successful women publishers before 1800 continued a family business established by their father or husband after losing that parent or spouse. The customer’s point of contact was with a newspaper boy on the street, so these women just got on with their business and stepped into the leadership role.
The act of stepping into a larger and more responsible role is timeless in the human experience and has no gender specificity. As children, we are responsible for very little. Ideally, as our parents raise us, they give us opportunities for responsibility inside the safe environment of the family. Every year we gather more information, develop skills, and take on new responsibilities. The wider our experience and opportunity, the more capable we become. This is a function of being a human being.
We are all, to one degree or another, capable human beings. We can just get on with our business.