From connoisseur to commercial publisher: Women's working careers in wood-engraved illustration, 1820-1860

Johanna Holmes

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


In the 1830s, Charles Knight (1791-1873) spearheaded the transformation of the printing industry in Britain, producing for the first time printed material which was pictorially or decoratively illustrated and affordable to a middle-class mass market. Wood-engraving enjoyed both a cultural and commercial renaissance on an industrial scale. By the later 1830s, it was recognised that there were insufficient skilled wood-engravers to meet demand, and there were even calls for women to train and pursue this ‘art’ as a career. This paper explores, through the careers of four female wood-engravers working between 1810 and 1860, the effects of the transition from connoisseurial to mass markets for the training, work opportunities, financial reward and status of skilled female practitioners: Mary Byfield (born 1795), whose engraved work was foundational to the decorative quality of the output of the Chiswick Press, Mary Ann Williams (born c.1788), the “exquisite delicacy” of whose work Henry Cole in 1838 held up as an inspiration to other female practitioners, Annie Waterhouse (born c.1826), teacher of wood-engraving to women in the Government School of Design from 1843 to 1856, and ‘”Miss Waite” (born c.1830), the only graduate of that class known to have been offered a job as an engraver. Together, their working lives offer an insight into the implications for women’s careers of changing cultural expectations, markets for visual imagery, technological ‘advances’ and working practices in the metropolis.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 8 Feb 2019
EventWomen, work and commerce in the creative industries: Britain, 1750-1950 - Victoria and Albert Museum, London, United Kingdom
Duration: 8 Feb 20199 Feb 2019


ConferenceWomen, work and commerce in the creative industries
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom

Cite this