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Dressmakers and Seamstresses in Toronto, 1834–1861

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Abstract

The young colonial city of Toronto was a landing place for many newcomers to Canada, and was a city of opportunity. The steady growth in population between 1834 and 1861 afforded women employment outside of the home, notably in the needle-trades (i.e. the roles involved in the manufacture of clothing). This article argues that the needle-trades were a significant source of employment for women in pre-industrial period Toronto and explores the social and professional distinctions between ‘dressmakers’ and ‘seamstresses’, by enumerating and aggregating women from the City Directories and 1861 census. Several biographical case studies are included to demonstrate the variety of women employed in the needle-trades, based on information from the primary source data.

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