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Unseen Hands Women Printers, Binders, and Book-Designers

on display in the

October 20, 2002 to April 13, 2003

Women have been involved in printing and the making of books ever since these crafts were first developed. Even before the advent of movable type, there was a strong tradition of women producing manuscripts in western European religious houses. In the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence, we find the first documented evidence, in 1476, of women working as printers. Girls and women were often trained by their fathers or husbands to assist in printing businesses, and there are many instances from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries of women taking over and managing these enterprises upon the early demise of their male relatives. We may be sure that women played many different roles in these situations, although what exactly is not always easy to verify. Many, certainly, only managed the business, while others were more directly involved. Estellina, wife of the printer Abraham Conant, proudly stated in a Hebrew book, Behinat `olam (Mantua, ca. 1477) that “she, together with one man, did the typesetting.”