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4 Professions, Reserved for Women, That No Longer Exist

Updated: Sep 27, 2022

As we inch toward gender equality it’s interesting to read about some occupations that were solely and historically reserved for women. Many are upsetting.

Historical gender inequality for women in the work place. Four professions, Reserved for Women, That No Longer Exist
Four professions, Reserved for Women, That No Longer Exist

I had a range of emotions as I read, and wrote, about these professions. Some made me cringe, while others upset me. I had to shake my head at times. These 4 professions are only the tip of the iceberg. There were many that I could have written about, but these are the ones that stuck out to me.

Radium Girls

During World War 1 women took jobs in factories but the wages were low, and workdays were long. As dial painters, in clock companies, they could earn three times the wages of a factory worker and so, many women opted to become dial painters.

They had to painstakingly paint glow-in-the-dark numbers onto the clock dials. What they didn’t know was that the luminous paint contained radium — a radioactive chemical.

The factory supervisors went as far as instructing the women to pull the brushes across their lips to make sure the tips were sharp. The sharp tip made neater strokes. The workers were never warned about the radium content in the paint.

With time the women started losing their teeth, skin lesions wouldn’t heal and mobility issues such as painful hip locking developed. After some ladies died, the dial painters sued the radium producing companies which kickstarted US workplace safety standards.


Radium Girls Movie Trailer (2020)


Originally a Vivandiére was a male soldier who sold food and sundries to the troops. However, they often neglected their jobs because they had to join active fighting during war.

Before the 1700's, women often travelled with their soldier husbands. The ‘job’ of storekeeper and canteen carrier eventually fell to these women. The French name given to male soldiers was transferred to the women. With time the women were not just soldier wives but willingly joined armies where they were assigned to a military regiment.

They often worked in field hospitals and helped to tend to the sick and wounded. Evidence of Vivandiére appear in many countries including America (Civil War), France, Germany States, Italy, Spain, and South America.

These women faced the same war time dangers as the men but little is written about them.


Leech Collectors

Early medical research was certainly not for the faint hearted. Leech collecting was one of the more interesting aspects of medical science and research for centuries.

Doctors prescribed these little suckers as remedies for anything from a stroke to headaches or fever, in a treatment called bloodletting.

Leech collectors were in high demand and were mostly poor women who needed the money. They were asked to stand in streams and wait for leeches to suction onto their legs. Leeches had to stay suction for at least 20 minutes before the collector could remove and deliver them to the doctors. It was easier to remove a ‘full’ leech from the skin than a ‘thirsty’ one.

Since leech collectors could only work in warmer weather and pay was poor, they typically over harvested to make as much money as they could and in doing so they risked their lives.

Risk of infection or skin ulceration from all the leech bites was high and blood loss from too many harvests was dangerous. Sometimes a wound from a leech bite would bleed for hours after the leech was removed.


Vestal Virgins

In ancient Roman culture some girls from 6 to 10 years old were selected to become vestal virgins and served as priestesses to Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth.

They were highly regarded women and were free of many restrictions that Roman society placed on women at the time. However, their status came with sacrifices. They had to commit to 30 years of celibacy. If a vestal virgin broke her vow, she faced serious punishment. Anything from being beaten, buried alive or being executed.

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