Breaking the Victorian Stereotype: One Woman and Her Chocolate Factory

Outside the working classes the traditional view of Victorian women is that they were little involved in business or enterprise and that their lives were largely devoted to the private sphere of domestic and family life. Certainly the cultural and evangelical ideals of the period placed women on a pedestal of moral probity, motherhood and domestic orderliness. In addition the legal status of married women and their limited property rights made it difficult for them to operate in business on their own account at least before the 1880s.

It's no secret amongst practitioners of woman's history these days that such stereotypes can easily be overplayed. One women however, staunchly rose above any Victorian females earning power, to the very top of one of the largest and most successful manufacturing industries of the nineteenth century.

Mary Ann Craven's story begins in 1822 when her father, Joseph Hick, opened a confectionary business in York. His daughter Many Ann, the youngest of three children was born in 1829.
Four years later her future husband, Thomas Craven, became apprentice to the firm of Berry and Hide, where he was to learn the business of confectionary. By 1843 he was a master confectioner and was in a position to take over the business.

Thomas Craven married Mary Ann Hick in 1851, a perceptive move as Mary inherited her father's confectionary business when he died in 1860. Sadly for Mary Ann their happiness was short lived as Thomas died just two years later.

Mary Ann Craven now faced the possibility of a very bleak future. Widowed and with several children to raise and support, she overcame not only the odds, but the stereotype of an age and became heavily involved in the running of the Cravens confectionary business.

It is a testament to her determination and strength that just four years later she was listed in Melville's Directory of Businesses of York as a "manufacturer confectioner", an astounding achieve in a period when were rarely involved in business, let alone an enterprise of the scale and national success enjoyed by Cravens in this period.

Mary Craven ran the company for more than 40 years after her husband, Thomas, died in 1860, right up until her death in 1902 and many generations of people still owe their jobs to her. Not bad for a five foot tall widow.

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