One Tough Cookie

Today it’s not uncommon to see women participating in all of the building trades, in every part the western world.   But at the beginning of the twentieth century it would have been rare to see a woman working as a professional trades person.  One notable exception was Juliette Caron, born in Oise, France in 1882.

Here, Juliette demonstrates the use of the bisaigue, the traditional mortising tool that is emblematic of French Carpenters

Here, Juliette demonstrates the use of the bisaigue, the traditional mortising tool that is emblematic of French Carpenters. The caption notes that she is the only woman in France working at the job of carpentry (presumably circa 1900)

Anyone who has ever drilled out a mortise with a “tee-handled” auger will appreciate just how strong Mademoiselle Caron must have been.

The look of sheer determination

The look of sheer determination

Today, even with the assistance of hydraulic cranes and any number of other labor saving devices,  the work of the timber framing carpenter is physically demanding.  In 1900, while the use of steam powered machinery was common,  most of the lifting and toting was done by the workman.  Wooden cranes, driven by windlasses or blocks and tackle were powered by crews of carpenters working together.  But individual frame members would often be carried up ladders, many times to quite lofty heights.  Note the size of the beam that Juliette has parked on her shoulder.  This is a formidable lady.

A lady to be reckoned with

A lady to be reckoned with

One can only imagine how difficult it was for a young woman to prove herself to a  “gang” of “old hand” carpenters in the early 1900’s.  In 2013 that can still be a difficult task, even with the legislative and cultural advances that have been made.  I think the lesson that people like Juliette Caron teach us is, that it’s not important “who’s” doing the work, but that the work gets done, correctly.

Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did.  But she did it backwards and in high-heels.

Learn more about traditional carpentry in France at Charpentiers d’ Europe et d’ailleurs.  Use the English version, if your French is a little rusty.

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