I honestly always find the term ‘spinster’ as referring to an elderly, never-married woman as funny because you know what?

Wool was a huge industry in Europe in the middle ages. It was hugely in demand, particularly broadcloth, and was a valuable trade good. A great deal of wool was owned by monasteries and landed gentry who owned the land. 

And, well, the only way to spin wool into yarn to make broadcloth was by hand. 

This was viewed as a feminine occupation, and below the dignity of the monks and male gentry that largely ran the trade. 

So what did they do?

They hired women to spin it. And, turns out, this was a stable job that paid very well. Well enough that it was one of the few viable economic options considered ‘respectable’ outside of marriage for a woman. A spinster could earn quite a tidy salary for her art, and maintain full control over her own money, no husband required. 

So, naturally, women who had little interest in marriage or men? Grabbed this opportunity with both hands and ran with it. Of course, most people didn’t get this, because All Women Want Is Husbands, Right?

So when people say ‘spinster’ as in ‘spinster aunt’, they are TRYING to conjure up an image of a little old lady who is lonely and bitter. 

But what I HEAR are the smiles and laughter of a million women as they earned their own money in their own homes and controlled their own fortunes and lived life on their own terms, and damn what society expected of them. 

Spinster sounds like it could be a codeword for lesbians.

Like old aunt Beatrice never seemed interested in men and just hangs out with other women all day… is she… you know…. *straight whipser* a spinster?

There is almost nothing written about what we would now term lesbianism in the middle ages; a great deal was written on sodomy, but it’s likely that many women probably engaged in same sex relationships quietly and nearly completely unnoticed. 

Look how historical sources are viewed even now; a woman could write about her passion for another woman and people will read it as ‘close friendship’. 

So, I think it’s reasonable to assume that a woman who had no interest in men and preferred the company of other women would find herself in the spinning trade, and would not be very surprised if some (even many) ‘spinsters’ did in fact prefer women to men.  

Specifically, skilled spinsters and weavers could earn 5-8 pounds a year, depending on skill, which put them squarely in the ‘wealthy peasantry’ class and was comparable to what a skilled mason was paid. 

so spinsters were the power dykes of the middle ages? i need to write a story about this

About C.A. Jacobs

Just another crazy person, masquerading as a writer.
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