This article analyses the position of women in the economy of a rural community in the second half of the nineteenth century. The town of Dungog and its surrounding region in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales were being settled by Europeans in these decades. The article explores the relationship between family needs and aspirations, the economic constraints and opportunities available to women in this community. It concludes that while more economic opportunities such as teaching and nursing were opening for single women, most women’s work remained part of the family enterprise. In addition, women’s unpaid labour was vital in the creation of Dungog’s quality infrastructure such as schools, churches and hospitals.