JHOM - Personalities - Gluckel - Buissneswoman

Among the German Jews it was expected that women would work. Glikl's maternal grandmother Mattie bas Jacob and her own mother Beila provided excellent models (described by Glikl in her Life, so that they might serve as models for the next generation as well). Widowed by the plague of 1638 and robbed (her husband's bags of jewels and golden chains were stolen by neighbors), Mattie started again in Altona with small loans and pledges. When this was not enough to support herself and her last daughter, Beila, the two of them began to make lace from gold and silver thread. So satisfied were the Hamburg traders with their work that Beila took in apprentice girls and taught them the same skills. Glikl describes other resourceful matrons besides Mattie, including Esther, "a pious, honorable woman who...always went to the fairs," and the widow of Baruch of Berlin, "who still remained fully in business" and to whose son the widowed Glikl married her daughter Hendele. The Jewish widow carrying on her husband's trade can be found in many other families as well.

Christian women, too, made small-scale loans and went into goldspinning and stockingmaking. Where Glikl seems different from Christian women in Germany is in the scope of her trade and credit operations. She was no "court Jew": Esther Schulhoff, wife of Judah Berlin, alias Jost Liebmann, worked openly with her husband in providing jewels to the court of Prussia and continued to do so after his death; on the whole, though, raising loans for princes and provisioning their armies remained in the hands of men.[1] But Glikl's transactions did take her into long-range commerce and involved significant sums of money, which she exchanged in person on the Hamburg Börse. (Possibly she had a companion with her at the Börse; the Jewish Gemeinde of Worms recommended that women not go to the marketplace without another Jew.)

Glückel biography

About Glückel's name

Glückel's early marriage

Glückel's view of her suffering

The Memoirs (analysis and selections)

Christian women in Germany ordinarily stayed within the city walls, playing a major role in retail trade. If they were carrying on credit operations in Hamburg, they seem to have gone infrequently to the Börse themselves; at least, pictorial conventions in seventeenth-century Hamburg scarcely ever represent them there. In the late seventeenth century, some Christian widows in Hamburg did attend to their husbands' firms until their sons were old enough to take over, but those inheriting a business as extensive as Haim's would often leave its management to a male relative or agent while they devoted themselves to household or religious activities appropriate to a woman of affluence. For the German Jews, traveling around to fairs did not detract from a woman's reputation, especially when she made as much money as Glikl did. If anything, it brought additional marriage proposals.


About the name Glikl / Gückel

[1] Selma Stern, The Court Jew: A contribution to the History of the Period of Absolutism in Central Europe, trans. Ralph Weiman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1950), pp. 47-55, 184-185. [back]

excerpted Barnes & Noble linkNatalie Zemon Davis. Women on the Margins. Copyright © 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), pp. 14-15. Reprinted by permission of the author.[back]




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