One of the ways women have historically worked is by volunteering with benevolent societies and in ways that help others. The Dorcas Society is named after Dorcas, found in the New Testament. According to Wikipedia, the first Dorcas Society was founded in 1834 in the Isle of Man. Dorcas Societies are affiliated with churches. As you consider the women in your family tree, you may want to research what Dorcas Society records still exist including documents, photos and even cookbooks.
One such collection can be found in the Maryland Room of the Talbot Free Library. A manuscript collection documenting the Union Dorcas Society (founded in 1834) are housed there and include minutes, committee books, treasurer's books, subscribers, reports and ephemera. This collection spans 1848 to the 1980s.
The description for this collection reads, "The Union Dorcas Society was established in 1834 by a group of sixteen women who helped those who were less fortunate...The Society is the oldest, all-woman, on-going charitable organization in Maryland."