Women played key roles in the development of printing from the beginning, says a professor of book art who is scheduled to speak Friday at the New Mexico History Museum in downtown Santa Fe.
Kathleen Walkup, a professor at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., said that by 1476, two decades after the invention of the printing press, Roman Catholic nuns were setting type in Florence, Italy.
By the 1600s, Charlotte Guillard was Paris’ most successful publisher. Although French law then did not allow women to own property, Guillard was allowed to keep her dead husband’s printing press so the widow and her family would not become burdens on the state.
“As a press owner, she had to feed and house all of the apprentices and everybody up to the level of a master printer, so she had a huge obligation even beyond business owning,” Walkup said of Guillard. “She basically ran a boarding house at the same time and supported several nieces and nephews.”
By the late 1700s, Anne Franklin, sister-in-law of Benjamin Franklin, had taken over her dead husband’s printing business, trained her daughters to set type and published almanacs, political tracts and an early novel.
Benjamin’s younger brother, James, “was a reluctant printer,” Walkup said. “He was apprenticed to his brother. He ran away a few times and he clearly wasn’t very engaged in the whole process, whereas Anne seems to have really taken to it. She became the postmistress of Rhode Island and the first official printer of Rhode Island.”
Virginia Woolf is best known as an essayist and novelist of London’s Bloomsbury Group in the early 20th century. Less known is her and her husband’s foray into printing, beginning in 1917 when they set up a small printing press in their dining room.
“A lot of the impetus was people were not wanting to publish Virginia because it was that sort of modernist work that Stein and Joyce, Eliot and Pound [were doing]. Especially for Virginia, being a woman, her work was not being embraced at that time by the publishing establishment,” Walkup said. “Part of it was therapeutic — to help Virginia around her depressive episodes — and partly because they wanted to have a voice in what was being produced and published.”
Walkup said she’s not worried about printing becoming a dead art. In fact, she said, she leaves the room whenever someone starts talking the death of the book.
“I think the shift into e-readers and more digital content has actually turned the focus back on the material object of the book,” she said. “It’s actually having a positive impact on the idea of artists and scholars examining the role of the book as a material or object of expressive form in ways that didn’t seem terribly relevant to a lot of people when I started back in the mid ’70s.”
Contact Tom Sharpe at 986-3080 or firstname.lastname@example.org.