Working Women in New France
Ages 11-14

MysteryQuest 18
Support Materials 1 (Briefing Sheet)

European Women in New France

The history of European women in New France starts when Les Filles du Roi arrive in Quebec City. They help to establish the population and settle the territories for France. By 1730, European women in New France are present in both rural and urban areas and their work is essential for the development of the Colony. Girls born in wealthy families are sent to school or have private tutors. They can then get married or enter the convent. Girls from poorer families might be sent to school for a short time if their presence is not necessary at home to help their mothers. Very few girls are in fact sent to school at this time. Again, marriage will often follow or they can enter the convent.

Yet, life in New France can be very different if you live in the country or in a city.

The main occupation of European women in New France is to raise children and take care of the household. If the woman is of a higher social status, she might have servants and slaves to help her keep her household. Poorer families do not have such luxury and depend on the work of older children. Thus, girls help their mothers in the house and boys help their fathers.

European women living in the country actively participate on the farm. They work in the garden, help with the harvest and with the animals, cook meals, make clothes for the entire family, and keep the household.

Women living in the city keep their households but have other possibilities open to them. They might, sometimes with their husband or alone, have their own business. They might keep taverns or hostels while the majority are servants or maids for wealthy families. Others might be seamstresses or cooks.

Another field in which we find European women working for their community is the religious sector. Nuns play an important role in the life of New France. They are the ones who take care of the sick and act as nurses. They are also teachers for young children, mostly girls. They administrate their lodging and even produce goods sold in the community. Poorer girls that enter the convent have the chance to gain an education from the other sisters.

Some women — mostly black or native girls — might be kept as slaves. They are bought by wealthy families to act as maids, cooks, or servants for their large households. Native slaves are called “panis.”