In the fifteenth century women had few career opportunities. Few, bar those in the higher social classes were even sent to school, and women were not admitted to universities (Oxford university didn’t permit women to matriculate or graduate until 1920). Their options were very limited and pessimistically and perhaps a little exaggeratedly summed up by Sherrill Cohen, who wrote that medieval women faced just three options: ‘marriage, monasticism, and prostitution.’ (Cohen, p. 170). For those who did not join a convent, marriage came early: ‘an unmarried girl of sixteen or seventeen was a catastrophe.’(Plumb, p. 132).
The first female typographers
From 1476 to 1484, the Dominican nuns of Sanctum Jacobum de Ripoli were printing in Florence. They published many books and undoubtedly numerous broadsides. A logbook of the convent press was discovered in the eighteenth century and contains the earliest record of a female compositor, a nun, who in 1481/82 typeset a folio edition of Il Morgante, (ISTC: ip01123500) a work by Italian poet Luigi Pulci (1432–84).