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Colonial women have been regarded as domesticated creatures, kept within the private sphere and occupied with housework and child-rearing. This image has pervaded the historiography as well as popular culture. Even where women have been recognised as economically active it has been as ‘colonial helpmeets’ rather than independent citizens. Women were certainly politically, legally and economically marginalised during this period, but in spite of this, there were female entrepreneurs, employers and employees, occupied in making money for themselves and their families in Sydney in the 1850s and 1860s. By taking a ‘virtual’ walk down Pitt Street in 1858 and peeking in each window at the occupants it is possible to get a very real sense of just how many women were engaged in the pursuit of mammon, either independently or alongside their husbands and families as well as the nature of their businesses. With online, searchable, digitalised sources newly available, a ‘collective biography’ of the women in Pitt Street can be created. Only when the individual stories of these women are investigated do they become visible as participants in the labour force to the historian’s gaze.


School of Arts

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Open Access Conference Paper

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Open Access