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Gender and Women's Lives

Key Texts

Joanna Bourke, 'Housewifery in working-class England, 1860-1914', Past and Present, 1994 [online]

Catherine Hall, 'The early formation of Victorian domestic ideology', in Hall, White, Male and Middle Class: Explorations of Feminism and History

Simon Morgan, ‘“A sort of land debateable”: female influence, civic virtue and middle-class identity, 1830-1860’, Women’s History Review, 2004 [online]

Sarah Richardson, ‘Politics and Gender’ and Lesley Hall, ‘Sexuality’ in in Chris Williams (ed.), A Companion to Nineteenth-Century Britain

Jane Rendall, ‘Women and the Public Sphere’, Gender and History, 1999 [online]

Women’s History Review, volume 8:2, 1999 special issue on motherhood [online]

Martha Vicinus (ed.), A widening sphere: changing roles of Victorian women

Seminar Questions

  • Discuss the concept of domesticity and its role in placing women in the private sphere in the nineteenth century
  • What opportunities were there for women to participate in the public sphere?
  • Did the role of mothers change in the Victorian period?
  • How important were housewives in the Victorian economy?
  • Is there a distance between public rhetoric and the actual experiences of women? Explore with reference to one or more women's lives in Victorian Britain. See the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Examples could include social reformers such as Elizabeth Fry, Louisa Twining, Frances Power Cobbe, Mary Carpenter, Josephine Butler, Beatrice Webb or literary/cultural figures or educationalists such as Emily Davies, Frances Buss or Dorothea Beale or women and religion.

Further Reading

Patricia Branca, Silent Sisterhood: middle class women in the Victorian home

Barbara Caine, Victorian Feminists

Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1750-1850

Shani D’Cruze, Crimes of Outrage: sex, violence and Victorian working women

Sara Delamont and Lorna Duffin (ed.), Nineteenth century woman: her cultural and physical world

Kathryn Gleadle, British Women in the Nineteenth Century

Kathryn Gleadle and Sarah Richardson (eds), Women in British Politics, 1760-1860: The Power of the Petticoat

Eleanor Gordon and Gwyneth Nair, Public Lives: Women, Family and Society in Victorian Britain

Lesley Hall, Sex, Gender and Social Change in Britain since 1880

Lee Holcombe, Victorian ladies at work: middle class working women in England and Wales, 1850-1914

Patricia Hollis, Ladies Elect: Women in English Local Government

Katrina Honeyman, Women, Gender and Industrialisation in England

Angela John, Unequal opportunities: women's employment in England 1800-1918

Jane Lewis (ed.), Labour and Love: Women's experience of home and family, 1850-1940

Jane Lewis, Women in England, 1870-1950

Sharon Marcus, Between women: friendship, desire, and marriage in Victorian England

Michael Mason, The Making of Victorian Sexual Attitudes

Michael Mason, The Making of Victorian Sexuality

Jane Rendall, Women in an Industrialising Society: England 1750-1880

Sonya Rose, Limited Livelihoods: Gender and class in nineteenth century England

Martha Vicinus, Suffer and be still: women in the Victorian age