Our print also featured a typo from a misplaced “u” in a spot meant for an “n,” which further illustrates the difficulty behind compositing.
The “blanks” of the printing world are, arguably, its most important aspects. Without the blanks, print is illegible, would fall out of its arrangement and pie, and would, likely, not exist in the same way today.
This idea rings true of both the physical act of composing and printing, but also of the history of print itself - particularly in relation to women’s role in it.
Reading about the Victoria Press established by Emily Faithfull, I can’t help but wonder what Benjamin Franklin’s all-male world of printing would have thought of the female-lead and operated house, “you women and girls sitting or standing before [compositors’ cases], busy working, some with the easy and rapidity of skilled compositors, some with the slowness caution of the half-trained workwoman, and others just learning their alphabet” (“Ramble,” 270).
Though many in the male-dominated field protested the continued existence of Faithfull’s print house, there is an inherent contradiction in its history that is worth unpacking. In particular, the idea of women’s work, and the inherent devaluation of gendered occupations when chiefly employing women.
The article, “A Ramble with Mrs. Grundy” makes particular note to state:
“The compositor’s trade should be in the hands of women only. They are eminently suited to it, and it is eminently suited to them. To men belong the imposition and press-work” (271).
At this point in the article, we are able to see the clear distinction between roles in the printing house, and the idea of where women’s place was. There is something to be said of the fact that Faithfull, having started the Victoria Press, only employed women compositors. On the other side of the same coin, however, it is vital to understand the idea of compositing as “women’s work,” and the damage that could occur to the profession as a result of a patriarchal society (272).
Despite this, we should read Faithfull’s work and the work of the Victoria Press as an early feminist venture into a field that was, at the time, completely owned and operated by men. By using their own physicality, particularly their smaller fingers, as a way to brand compositing as “for women,” Faithfull and her compositors were able to succeed and scale their printing house irrespective of gender.