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History of Women's Toolkits: A Journey of Empowerment and Innovation

History of Women's Toolkits: A Journey of Empowerment and Innovation

Women have long been using tools throughout history, whether it was for domestic tasks, farming, crafts or other work. However, the concept and celebration of the "women's toolkit" is a relatively new phenomenon that has emerged over the past few decades. This article will explore the roots and evolution of intentionally curated toolkits created with women in mind, shining a light on their empowering journey and the innovators who have advanced this space.

From humble beginnings with just a few essential items, women's toolkits have blossomed into a diverse landscape. New tools, robust collections and supporting communities have blossomed - all with the goal of empowering women through practical skills and knowledge. This historical overview will unpack the social context and innovations that have progressed the women's toolkit from a simple notion into the celebrated movement it is today.

Early Adoption in Crafts and Hobbies

Some of the earliest forebears of intentional women's toolkits came in the forms of supply kits for crafts and hobbies like sewing, weaving and ceramics during the 19th century. These modest kits contained basic necessities to enable women to engage in constructive pastimes within the domestic sphere that was largely defined for their gender at the time. Some notable early examples include:

Sewing kits

Basic sewing kits containing needles, thread, scissors and pins allowed women to mend and create clothing for their families. In the 1850s, pre-packaged sewing kits became commercially available, making the supplies more accessible.

Weaving kits

Simple loom kits and baskets of fiber, needles and shuttles empowered women in remote rural areas to weave fabrics, quilts and crafts essential for living. Regional basketweaving traditions were sometimes passed through generational weaving kits.

Pottery kits

Early ceramic kits contained wheels, clay, glaze and basic tools to enable amateur pottery as a leisure activity. These occasionally included pottery wheels and kiln fire starters for more dedicated home potters.

While still operating within women's prescribed domestic sphere, these modest early curated kits planted seeds that would later blossom into fully-fledged toolkits focused on skills, empowerment and self-reliance for their users. They provided important creative outlets and income supplements during financially difficult eras.

Growth in Homesteading and Farm Life

As more families established homesteads on the American frontier through the late 1800s, women's roles expanded beyond traditional domestic tasks. Curated toolkits grew to embrace the realities of rural farm life. Notable developments included:

Homesteading necessity kits

These included essential tools for duties like preserving produce, dairying, animal husbandry and grounds maintenance. Scissors, knives, saws, wrenches and more basic necessities enabled self-sufficiency.

Farm wife tool aprons

Tool aprons like the "vestina" consolidated portable supplies for transport between tasks. Pockets contained items for cooking, cleaning, first aid and minor repairs. Leather or oilcloth materials protected valued contents.

Trapper's wife kits

For partners of fur trappers working extended periods away, these enabled basic trapping/hunting skills. Contents included skinning knives, gut hooks, tanning supplies and material for warm winter clothing like fur mitts.

Home remedy kits

Well-stocked first aid kits took on new importance on remote homesteads. They contained herbs, medical supplies and references for treating common ailments with limited access to physicians.

While still focused on hearth and home, frontier toolkits acknowledged the true breadth of pioneering women's contributions beyond the domestic and nurtured a growing spirit of self-sufficiency. Their contents directly aided survival in isolated rural settings.

The Rise of Craftivism

In post-World War 2 America, a surge of interest emerged in activist crafting as means of creative expression. This DIY movement directly influenced the development of empowering women's toolkit philosophies. Noteworthy evolutions included:

Political protest craft kits

Distributed by organizations like Craftivist Collective, these contained supplies and patterns for handicrafts used in activism. Buttons, banners and lapel pins promulgated messages on issues like woman's suffrage, civil rights and environmentalism.

Zine making kits

Self-published magazines called "zines" emerged as a voice for counterculture communities and social movements. Starter zine kits incentivized literary and graphic self-expression among women especially.

Feminist craft collectives

Groups like the Feminist Craft Mafia and Riot Grrrl Craft engaged in craftivism through political cross-stitch, zines, pins, bags and clothing using fabric markers, thread and scissors. Their do-it-together meetings fostered community.

This era saw toolkits evolve beyond singular purpose into vehicles for expressing identity and values through handicraft. An ethos of creativity-as-activism took shape and tools were reclaimed from traditional gender expectations as means of empowerment.

The Rise of Self-Reliance Movements

Influenced by 1960s-70s back-to-the-land sentiments as well as economic difficulties, self-reliance grew as a priority. Women's toolkits embraced this practical philosophy, crystallizing the notion of tools empowering independent living. Key developments:

Off-grid homesteading kits

Sold by companies like Lehman's, these extensive rugged kits contained all supplies to establish an independent homestead, including tools for building, farming, energy production and home economics.

Outdoor adventure sets

Inspired by the burgeoning women's wilderness movement, curated backpacking kits from companies like Mountaineers Books included ultralight portable camp tools and gear empowering independent wilderness skills and travel.

Vehicle repair tool sets

Under-car tool kits and automotive manuals recognized women drivers and acknowledged car maintenance as an important self-reliance and independence skill rather than strictly "men's work."

Bicycle maintenance kits

Early feminist 'bike collectives' used mobile bike repair toolsets attached to cruisers both for self-powered transportation and to fix bikes for lower-income women dependent on cycling.

This period reflected how women's self-reliance at macro and micro levels through tool usage was gaining validation as means of independence, sustainability and resilience in an unpredictable world.

Related Article: The Ultimate Ladies' Toolkit Guide

No Limits

A century ago, the notion of a cohesive "women's toolkit" would have been unimaginable. But through bold acts of grassroots self-determination, communities of allied support and barrier-breaking innovators, tools are now firmly recognized for their empowering potential rather than as grounds for exclusion or intimidation based on gender.

Today's landscape proves tools are limited only by imagination, not identity -whether one's passion lies in mechanics or molecular gastronomy, engineering or environmentalism. When equipped with the right supplies and support system, any dream is possible.

Looking ahead, the future remains unlimited. As young people of all backgrounds embrace new technologies in inclusive spaces prioritizing mentorship over gatekeeping, traditional gender segregations will feel ever more archaic. Toolkits will continue to blossom in innovative forms celebrating diverse identities and empowering lives of purpose, healing old wounds and building a just world for all. The journey starts here.

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