Women in the Print Shop

Our rare book collections hold several editions of Ambroise Paré’s surgical works.  This is not unusual.  Paré (1510-1590) is one of the most famous early modern surgeons, and his writings were very popular during that time period.  While he published short treatises on distinct subjects beginning in 1545, the large folio editions of his collected works proved to be his most enduring literary legacy. The Oeuvres was first published in French in 1575, and over the next 120 years or so it went through multiple editions in all of the major European languages.[1]  Here at the Becker Library, we have French, German, Latin, and English editions of Paré’s collected works published between 1582 and 1678.

There’s something special about our copy of the 1678 edition.  It doesn’t have a beautiful decorative binding like our 1582 Latin edition, or fancy decorative wood engravings like the 1585 French edition, but if you look at the bottom of the title page you’ll notice it says this: “London: Printed by Mary Clark and are to be sold by John Clark at Mercers Chappel at the lower end of Cheapside.”  This edition of Paré was printed by a woman! 

It’s true that that the early modern English printing industry was dominated by men, but it isn’t particularly surprising to come across works printed by English women.  Print shops were often a family affair, and if a printer passed away wives and daughters could inherit his stock and printing equipment.  Widows were recognized by the Stationers’ Company, the organization that controlled the English printing industry, and had the right to take apprentices and hold shares in the English Stock, which held patents and monopolies for members of the Company.  While many women tended to disappear from the Company’s records as soon as they married, other women were highly active in the print industry for periods of several years.[2]  One such woman was Mary Clark.

Mary entered the printing business through widowhood.  Her husband, Andrew Clark, was a printer on Aldersgate Street in London.  He was active beginning in the early 1670s, and had the distinction of serving as printer to the City of London.  When he passed away, either in 1677 or 1678, his widow Mary took over his print shop, which she ran until 1696.[3]  Her imprints that appear in the English Short Title Catalogue show that, rather than printing impressive Latin volumes for an academic audience, she focused on English works that would have broad appeal.  For example, she printed several years’ worth of John Goldsmith’s annual almanac, copies of the popular poet Abraham Cowley’s works, and funeral sermons.   

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, remember that even if men have left a larger footprint in the written historical record, evidence of women’s participation is a variety of professions is lurking everywhere – we just have to keep our eyes open.


[1] For detailed information about the various editions of Paré’s works see Ambroise Paré: A Bibliography 1545-1940 by Janet Doe (Amsterdam: Gérard Th. Van Heusden, 1976).

[2] Helen Smith’s article “'Print[ing] your royal father off': Early Modern Female Stationers and the Gendering of the British Book Trades,” Text, Vol. 15 (2003): 163-186, provides an informative overview of women in the early modern English printing industry.

[3] Information on the Clarks can be found in Henry R. Plomer’s A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers Who Were At Work in England, Scotland and Ireland From 1668 to 1725: https://archive.org/stream/dictionaryofprin00plomiala#page/72/mode/1up