Paying my electricity bill today with an electronic transfer from my bank I began to think about relative cash movement in the Datini. Although my bank has a)my cash b)my creditor's details and c) electronic access to my creditor's bank, still, mysteriously, it will take three days for this transaction to clear.

On March 20 Francesco sent a letter of credit drawn on a Pisa firm to be signed off in Prato by Nicolaio Branchacci, promising to pay in two days, as was the practice in Pisa.

Margherita oversaw the transaction. She commented grumpily that Branchacci had not accepted the letter, so no money was forthcoming, but owing to the stupidity of Francesco's many letters (4 on the 20th alone) she had not written the news. So speed is not everything.
It is interesting to note that not only was Margherita expected to oversee transfer of credit, and as is clear from many letters, collection of debts, but also that Francesco's cashier in Florence for two years was a woman, Mona Ave. Rather embarrassingly at this moment in March, 1397 she has just been let go, because Francesco says he is closing the office in Florence. So when he has searched high and low for a silver signet ring in the Florence office and cannot find it he writes to Margherita suggesting a number of approaches she might make to Monna Ave to see if she knows where the ring might be. He can't help but instruct, but in the end leaves it up to her to come up with the emollient phrases. "Please God, it will be found and soon and put me out of this misery…"

According to A moral art, by Paul F. Gehl Florentine schools in the 1370's taught both boys and girls, although girls rarely learned Latin. But they did learn basic arithmetic. It seems strong evidence of a pragmatic need to make all the potential players in the creation of Florentine wealth sensible managers of it.

When we say that women were illiterate is it because we accept the standard of literacy as that defined by the literate castes who wrote the books, and got the "press coverage"? Latin and rhetoric are a different language from the day to day language of households and even of business. Just as today there is a literary written Arabic, and a perfectly correct, but non-literary spoken Arabic, the European vernacular languages occupied a lower plane.

Many women were able to read and write these languages. And somehow basic bookkeeping skills were available to women, who could work. Of course, one Mona Ave does not prove the existence of a whole city full of numerate women, but neither Margherita nor Francesco treat her as in any way unusual.

A few years earlier, Margherita had written triumphantly that her eight-year old niece, Tina, had learned her alphabet. It was time for Francesco to get "one of those little psalters with the big letters" for Tina. This, too, was not a mark of something strange, but rather expected.

It is dangerous to accept the standard of inflated literacy created by men who needed to create an elite space in academic and philosophical realms, and ignore the fundamental literacy of reading and writing in the vernacular in which businesses and households operated. Women ran the great families in that way. There is a danger in seeing that as of secondary value because in our times in Western countries, we have elevated loyalty to organisations and the creation of wealth over investment in family. Our rhetoric may suggest otherwise, but our actions certainly raise the question of what our priorities are.

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