Women And The Agricultural Revolution Essay, Research Paper
Women and the Agricultural Revolution
Elise Boulding in her article, Women and the Agricultural Revolution, argues that
women played a key role in initiating the Agricultural Revolution. She defines the
revolution as happening within two stages: horticulture and agriculture proper. Women
had a prominent role within the earlier form, horticulture. Horticulture is defined as
farming for subsistence only. Women’s roles on the farm were not as dominant as society
grew to farming for surplus instead. Boulding begins the article by discussing the shift
society made from wandering nomads to settled villagers. She explains that it was women
who recognized that plants could be easily domesticated. It was because of the
domestication of plants that people decided to eventually settle down. In doing so, the
early settlers exchanged the fairly simplistic nomadic life to that of a hard-working farmer.
Throughout the essay, Boulding emphasizes the role women played in initiating this
revolutionary shift. She describes the main duties women had and the status they held
within a horticulture society. However, this changed as the purpose of farming shifted to
According to Boulding, women’s influence on the Agricultural Revolution began
very early on. Women had recognized the significance of einkorn, a nutritious plant that
was easy to cultivate. It was because of women recognizing that plants could be
domesticated that nomads were introduced to farming. They slowly decided to settle in
areas where einkorn and other food sources grew.
In the early stages of the settled life, women exercised an important share on the
farm. They did much of the planting and gathering, and Boulding states that women
probably even constructed the mud-houses in the early villages. In this horticulture
society, children also helped women. They carryed out many chores on the farm, such as
taking care of animals and gathering grain. These roles would change as farming shifted
to agriculture proper.
At horticulture stage, the farming of these early people was for the purpose of
providing enough food for the family. In these farms, women were able to farm the lands
without much aid. Instead, they used simple small hand tools to do the work. However,
once the farms grew in size and they had a surplus of food, they required more help.
Gradually, as the farms grew, there was a shift from merely farming to provide for the
family, to farming for economic profit as well. As a result, Boulding argues that women
were no longer the main workers on the farm.
Women continued to help the development of the Agricultural Revolution despite
their role change. Originally, women used digging sticks for gathering, planting, and
growing plants. As the farming purpose changed, however, the tools changed as well.
The plow and animals were used for cultivation, making women less visible on the field.
Yet, women continued to help by creating baskets and discovering pottery, all of which
enabled them to store more grain.
The importance of women during this time period was reflected on their status
within their society. Many of the tribes were “matrilocal”, the eldest women and her
children held much of the family’s property. The power was held with the women. In
addition, the men lived separately from the women and children. Yet as farming changed
to agriculture proper, the homes were combined and there were more interactions between
the husband and wife.
According to Boulding, women were fundamental in initiating the Agricultural
Revolution. The author describes the many contributions women made during the this
revolution and the impact that they had on society. Boulding makes it clear that women
were highly influential players in the transformation of the nomadic society to the
agricultural one, but their role became less obvious when society shifted from a lifestyle of
farming for sustenance to one that farmed for economic profit.