I have been interested in learning typography and also I wish to learn to create fonts. I came to know about many designers, typographers, calligraphers, etc. but noticed that there were many names of male designers, typographers or calligraphers and strangely there were very rarely or very few female names. This roused my curiosity about first female typographers and printers and their work in the past.
Hence, I thought to undertake a research and found some stunning and interesting information –
There was a period when there were prejudices about capabilities of women and were considered inferior. They weren’t given the due credits for their work, not even were acknowledged for their work. Some women preferred to work with nicknames sounding like male names or simply remained anonymous by intention or forcefully by other, due to such unfavourable conditions. So, sometimes it was bit tough to recognize whether the work was done by a women artist or not.
Women had fewer career opportunities and also had been exempted from getting good education and not even allowed to matriculate or graduate. Even the universities like Oxford didn’t allow women to even get admission till 1920. Even at Bauhaus art school in Germany, women were permitted to learn weaving or textile design but not other arts like graphic design or typography. Condition wasn’t much different throughout all the continents of the world. The issue of treating women artists, designers, typographers, etc. as inferior was universal, almost in all religions and classes, with very rare exceptions.
Prior to the invention of printing process in 15th century, women were involved in the process of production of manuscripts as well as some women worked as scribes, copyists for imitating handwritten documents, arts and music while some women served as patrons and supporters. Wives of craftsmen and nuns were allowed to assist or work in printing firms to typeset or aid the guilds of artists, typesetters, publishers, etc.
For example :
- Dominican nuns were printing books during the period between 1476 to 1484.
- There is a logbook by a convent press belonging to 8th century which contains the record of female compositor, nun who had typeset a folio edition of a literary work by an Italian poet.
- Estellina Conat (wife of a physician and printer Abraham Conat) was involved in the process of typesetting of a Hebrew book, a small octavo edition of ‘Behinat Olam’. It has a colophon (a publisher’s emblem / imprint usually on the title page of the book, containing the brief information) which mentions Estellina’s contribution.
Anna Rugerin :
Anna’s mother Barbara Traut Schonsperger had remarried to Johann Bamler, a printer Augsburg, thus marking the beginning of an extensive engagement of family in the book-printing business.
After the death of her husband Thomas Ruger, Anna took full control of her print shop as an owner and operator, by having a business-oriented family history. The first woman to add her name in a colophon as a printer in a printed book was Anna Rugerin. She had published two folio editions of ‘Sachsenspiegel Landrecht’ by Eike Von Repgow in summer, June 1984 at Augsburg [Southern Germany]. She was assisted by her brother Johann Schonsperger.
Colophon containing Anna Rugerin’s name (Image courtesy of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) –
I had found the translation of the colophon as follows :
The opening page of ‘Formulae and Duetsch Rhetorica’ contains the mention of Anna Rugerin (Image courtesy of Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) –
Anna Rugerin and Johann Schonsperger used gothic type [Type 1:120G] –
Later, in 16th century, situations started progressing and more than hundreds of women were becoming a part of printing and designing processes, including bookmakers, writers / scribes, editors, type-designers, typographers, printers, owners of printing-firms.