Women profession in vital records. #general

Shimy Karni

I had  a discussion with my daughter yesterday.
She asked me whether women did work outside the house
in the period between WWI and WWII?
I told her that from what I saw in the vital records,
every single man had some profession, and none of the women had.
My knowledge is very limited - about 50 records in Romania and Poland,
so I am bringing this question to the public.
Shimi Karni, Israel

Eva Lawrence

In the period between WW1 and WW2, keeping house was far more time-consuming than it is today because so many labour-saving devices we have now just didn't exist.. So few married women in Western Europe  had a profession. In fact most professions  in England, for instance did not permit married women to go on working, so professional women were usually unmarried and wouldn't be so much of interest, perhaps, to a genealogist. A middle-class man was expected to earn enough to keep his wife and children. Most even had some domestic help - a cleaner, or a washing-woman once a week.
So married working-class women did work  more often,  in that sort of  part-time job or by doing piece work at home,. A lot of their work was still on the domestic front, sewing, cooking,, keeping shop. 
Families chose to educate their boys rather than their girls . Men always had a higher status. - and higher education cost money.  no free education for children  over 14  until after 1945,  unless you were clever enough to win a scholarship. My experience is  of England,  and  I think the situation was even worse for women in mainland Europe. The Russian revolution improved matters in that country, I believe,  but here my experience is as limited as yours.
Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.

Eva Lawrence

My mother trained as a chemical laboratory assistant in Germany in1918.  Sh ekept a series of testimonial letters  from the companies she worked for in the period until she married in 1932. Mostly she found herself doing secretarial work rather than anything scientific, and as soon as she married, she stopped working, So she probably appeared in very few records and always had low status,  but did work outside the home as a single woman. Her unmarried sister was a secretary and book-keepr all her life  -she too worked outside the home. ...So basically, married middle-class women rarely did, unmarried women  often had to work outside the hoee......
Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.

Philip Freidenreich

I recommend the book by my wife Professor Emerita Harriet Pass Freidenreich entitled Female, Jewish, Educated, The Lives of Central European University Women, published by Indiana University Press.


Philip Freidenreich
Yardley, PA

Norma Klein

Quite the opposite- at least in Western Europe, in the rural area in Germany and France, (palatinate and alsace lorraine). There following “enlightenment” people started to follow “modern ideas” to the point of bringing organ music to synagogue. (You’ll find a newspaper article regarding this event in the Zweibruecken synagogue if you check with the town finder).
My (Jewish) grandmother (born 1887) and all of her sisters and sisters in law had professions, they were milliners, hatmakers, seemstresses and even shop owners.
Most quit working full time by the time they got married, usually in their mid-twenties by then, but often kept working from home if possible.
According to my mother it was a source of pride, for the women and the families.

Norma Klein
Researching Wolf, Appel/Apfel, Mueller, Reh, Bloch Alsace Lorraine, Palatinate, Luxembourg

Janette Silverman

My great-grandmother, in Romania, was a bookbinder. This was a family craft. She continued this when she arrived in the U.S. in 1928. My grandmother in Stanislawow (now Ivano-Frankivsk) worked in an office after graduating from a business school. After she arrived in the U.S. in 1920 she worked as an embroiderer and a seamstress - skills highly valued in her family - her sister-in-law was an acclaimed embroiderer whose works were shown in galleries and this skill according to family stories was what saved her during World War II because of connections she made through her craft.
Janette Silverman

Sandra Malek

I have seen some who are midwives in Hungarian  records. And some of those who sent their husbands to register the births when the father was not available.

I have seen some women who were seamstresses...often of lingerie. And some who were farm day laborers.

Sandy Malek

JoAnne Goldberg

I have a relative born in Germany in 1900, trained as a lawyer just
after WWI. When she married a much older doctor, he told her she could
no longer work (she described this to me in a matter-of-fact way,
without any apparent regret).

I have not found any records mentioning her training and profession. Her
family immigrated to the US in January 1940, and the 1940 census
describes her as a high school graduate and maid. Her naturalization
papers from that same year call her a mother/educator.

I would guess that part of the issue was that most women did not have an
opportunity to receive professional training during those years. But
even if they did, that information was rarely captured on official records.

JoAnne Goldberg - Menlo Park, California; GEDmatch M131535



Does anyone know if it was noted anywhere in a vital record that a woman was a Midwife? My great-grandmother was a Midwife in Brody, Galicia and I have not been able to find any records there for her. If a profession was noted it would be another way by which to verify a record.
Jan Enns
DALITZ, Podkamien and Brody, Galicia

Jeremy Lichtman

I've seen women's professions noted on Polish aktas (metrical records) of the 19th century.

On a marriage record from Kalisz, for example, the husband's parents are noted as being both weavers, from a nearby town.

In the early 20th century I have two female cousins who were both dental surgeons (Latvia). They continued practising after marriage.

It depends a whole lot on precisely where and when, as well as what economic status the people were.


Jeremy Lichtman
Toronto, Canada

Eva Lawrence

There were no formal qualifications to be a midwife before the middle of the 20th century,  any more than there was a qualification for say, a shoemaker. I've found the name of the midwife on birth certificate, but to find that you'd need to know the place where they practised.
If you know that she practised in Brody, you could inspect local birth records to see whether she was a witness to any birth.  which was often the case. 
Eva Lawrence
St Albans, UK.

Michele Lock

Looking through the Jewishgen records for the Siauliai district of Lithuania, just searching for the term 'bank', brings up the Postal Bank Records, which are full of facts, like age, profession, name of father, maiden name, etc. Most of the records are from 1915, though some are from the early 1900s.


For records that are obviously for women based on their first names, about half list don't list a paid occupation, but instead have terms like "lives with husband, lives with parents, housewife, maiden, widow, or does not work. "


But the other half do list a paid occupation for the woman, which include "tradeswoman, dressmaker, shopkeeper, tailor, shop assistant, household duties (servant or maid), teacher, midwife, dentist, clerk, crawfish seller, tavern keeper, maid at tavern, leather seller, bread seller, and cloth seller."  Roughly speaking, the most common ones are tradeswoman, shopkeeper, and household duties.


Of course, there are about 8-10 times as many bank records for men, but even in the early 1900s in Lithuania, there were women earning money in various ways. It wasn't like the 1950s in America.

Michele Lock

Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock and Kalon/Kolon in Zagare/Joniskis/Gruzdziai, Lithuania
Lak/Lok/Liak/Lock in Plunge/Telsiai in Lithuania
Rabinowitz in Papile, Lithuania and Riga, Latvia
Trisinsky/Trushinsky/Sturisky and Leybman in Dotnuva, Lithuania
Olitsky in Alytus, Suwalki, Poland/Lithuania
Gutman/Goodman in Czestochowa, Poland
Lavine/Lev/Lew in Trenton, New Jersey and Lida/Vilna gub., Belarus

Odeda Zlotnick

My great great grandmother was a midwife too.  
Born in Lemberg Galicia, died in Vienna where they moved in 1887 or 1886.
Her profession appears in Viennese Address Book and on her death registration.

As to Shimy Karni's original question:
"Not registered" is quite different from "did not exist/happen".  When I transcribed Galician birth records, I was amazed at the disproportionate number of male infants compared to female infants.  

Odeda Zlotnick
Jerusalem, Israel.

Corinna Woehrl (nee Goslar)

Hello Shimi and list-readers,

At least in Prussia/Germany, the husband still had the right to decide on the wife's work until 1958 / in a modified form until 1977, even if it was certainly not exercised in a legal manner after the Second World War.
An interesting aspect is the so-called "female teacher celibacy", which was introduced in the German Reich in 1880. If a female teacher entered into marriage, she not only lost her position but also lost entitlement to a pension. In 1919, the law was abolished. Other rules applied in Austria /Hungary.
Women often worked before marriage (also depending on the financial situation of the family): within the family or also in employee positions. However, this is not reflected in the documents, which often state "without a profession" or "without a trade". 
A great-grandaunt was a head nurse from 1915 to 1923, but "without a profession" when she married in Berlin in 1923.
Regards from Germany

Corinna (Woehrl, née Goslar), Hoisdorf, Germany