Glossary – Spinster

When the word spinster entered the English language in the mid 14th century, it referred to a woman who spun flax into linen thread or wool into yarn for a living. The job was commonly taken up by unmarried women at home.

By the 18thcentury the word had come to mean an unmarried woman who had passed her ‘best before’ marriageable age – when she transformed from a maiden into an old maid. Jane Austen’s character Charlotte Lucas from Pride and Prejudice is identified as almost a spinster at the age of 27, “Without thinking highly either of men or of matrimony, marriage had always been her object; it was the only honourable provision for well-educated young women of small fortune, and however uncertain of giving happiness, must be their pleasantest preservative from want.”

About Jonathan

Jonathan Walford is a fashion historian and co-founder of the Fashion History Museum in Cambridge, Ontario. The FHM maintains a collection of nearly 12,000 artifacts dating from the mid 17th century to the present. Jonathan has authored various books and museum catalogues, including The Seductive Shoe, Shoes A-Z, Forties Fashion, 1950s American Fashion, and Sixties Fashion.
This entry was posted in Glossary. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.