Women today have many options open to them when it comes to making a living. Just looking around my own circle of friends I see women with careers in law enforcement, in education, in psychology, in child care, and so much more. But in the Regency, the options women had for obtaining money were much more limited.
Marriage and Family
Upper-class women would usually have their expenses covered by their husbands (if they were married) or their fathers (if they still lived at home). They might even be given “pin money” to spend – money to cover clothes or other small sundry expenses. Any money a married woman had, however, belonged to her husband. There were cases where wealthy women had some of their property set aside for their exclusive use – these legal arrangements had to be made before marriage under Equity and cost a lot to arrange – but those were rare exceptions. Accepting an offer of marriage was usually a woman’s most important financial decision because she was deciding who would support her for the rest of her life.
Widows could inherit some of their husbands’ property and when their husbands died the women’s own property from before marriage would revert to them. Also, women were allowed to inherit money and property, and if they were single it would belong to them alone.
There were few respectable jobs open to upper-class women, but there were some. The most ordinary were taking care of children by becoming a teacher or a governess, or becoming a paid companion to an older woman, often a relative. Though these were respectable occupations, being forced to work was still a diminution of one’s social status.
A woman was more likely to be viewed at least a little askance if she became an author. Though it did not put her beyond the pale, those who did sometimes published under an alias to avoid public comment or censure. Worse yet was becoming an actress, especially as it was not at all unusual for actresses to also become either mistresses or prostitutes. One famous actress, Mrs. Jordan, became mistress to the Duke of Clarence, who later became King of England.
Caught all the Episodes of The Bargain
Women could also sometimes run or work in shops, and lower-class women often went into service, working as maids or cooks or other domestics for upper-class homes. Less respectably still, many women fed themselves through prostitution, and this was so common in Regency London that the language of the time is rife with slang terms for all the different kinds of prostitutes who made their living in the city.
Peace of Christ to you,