Women's Struggle for Equality in the 19th Century

Women's Struggle for Equality in the 19th Century

Women fought for the right to vote, while facing social and economic challenges. The middle class ideal of women as caretakers clashed with working-class realities of poverty, harsh living conditions, and male brutality.

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1. The movement for women’s suffrage 1850-1938

2. The Social and economic position of women in 1850 End of the cottage system changed working class women’s role- now had to go out to work and still complete domestic duties By 1850 stereotypical image of middle class family, with the male as the breadwinner/decision maker/protector and the wife as the carer and provider for the husband and children

3. The aim of all ‘respectable’ women was to marry an honest man and have children Most working class women would have wished to aspire to the middle class ideal of marriage They were prevented in doing so due to poverty condemning them to a life of drudgery and endless childbearing Many working class men had a brutal attitude mainly due to drink and overcrowding Women could not escape due to lack of legal rights and education

4. Once married the woman literally became the ‘goods and chattels’ of her husband Many of the changes brought about in family law came from the efforts of middle class feminists The issues of divorce, custody of children attracted attention

5. Changes in Family Law Matrimonial Causes Act (1857): gave mothers increased to their children after divorce and keep post-divorce earnings 1866 : claim maintenance up to £2 a week Matrimonial Causes Act (1873): a husband could sue for divorce on grounds of adultery, a wife had to prove cruelty Married Women’s Property Act (1870): allowed married women to keep their own earnings up to £200 a year Married Women’s Property Act (1882): husbands lost claim to wives property as their own

6. By 1895 women had additional rights Right to become the sole guardian of their children on death of their husband Right to obtain a separation order if husband is cruel or in prison

7. Employment and Trade Unions Almost 29% of women of working age were in some form of paid employment,mainly in domestic service. They ‘lived in’, worked long hours for poor pay Earned half a mans salary for doing the same job Factory system led to poor conditions also as well as risk of sexual assault, ‘sweat shops also exploited women

8. Employment and Trade Unions Between 1861 and 1911 there was 1 307% increase in the employment of women Technology led to 97% of women in office work Women however had to give up their job when they were married Women worked through the TU’s to improve their conditions Although numbers did not increase until after 1870s due to opposition from men Men believed they were entitled to the higher wage as they were the ‘bread winner’

9. Trade Unions Increase membership from 21,085 in 1877 to 437,000 in 1914 Strong membership in Lancashire cotton unions but excluded from general TU’s until mid century 1875 attended the TUC 1893 first women factory inspector Although TUs failed to make an impact on domestic service were 1.5 million were working However by outbreak of war women had achieved improvements but still lagged behind

10. Lack of education was a major handicap to the progress of women Little chance of education for working class women Role was either in the factory or at home They were to be content and behave themselves!

11. There was little attempt to give Middle class girls an education Most were educated by a governess who taught them how to read, knit, sew play the piano and paint The girls were educated to be good wives and mothers as male educationalists believed that the stress of education could damage the health of a young girl instead they needed rest

12. Change in education 1848 Queens college in London was founded as a training college for women teachers, set new standards of education in girls schools

13. Taunton Commission in 1868 Set up to enquire into the education of boys, included girls schools at last minute due to Emily Davis Found a deficiency in girls education, solely on domestic duties and ‘accomplishments’ Some good schools e.g. academic schools such as Cheltenham Ladies college founded by early feminist pioneers. However in the minority

14. Debate over the nature of reform 1st school of thought: make education for girls as good as but different from boys 2 nd school of thought: girl’s education should be identical to boys All agreed an increase in number of good schools for girls Drew to a logical conclusion, they would demand access to higher education at university level

15. Emily Davis Campaigned to gain women the right to university Opened a school for women in 1869 later known as Girton college Followed by Newnham Hall by Jemima Clough

16. Aims of Davis and Clough illustrate difference in attitude dividing feminists, Clough adopted a gradualist approach Davis an uncompromising position Oxford University and 4 in Scotland enrolled women in 1879 By turn of century more middle class women going into higher education and into professions By end of Victorian era there is no doubt that the causes of women’s rights had made significant progress but they still had no voting rights


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