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Meaning of Philanthropy

1. love of humankind in general (Gk. philos=loving + anthropos=man)

2. the practice of performing charitable or benevolent actions


Need for philanthropy in late 18/19th centuries

Population growth and changing structure of the population

Problems this created

• breakdown of existing welfare systems, i.e. Poor Law

• Poor Law Amendment Act 1834 – made matters worse?

• Greater distinction between deserving and undeserving poor

• Undeserving poor discriminated against

• Institutionalisation of paupers in workhouses

• Unmarried mothers and their children stigmatised

• Urban growth

• particular type of urban growth - industrial and commercial growth

• accompanied by disease, over-crowding, poverty

• Rural poverty

• countryside ought to have been a haven of bliss, cleanliness and quiet in comparision with industrial towns but

• great changes in agriculture in the second half of the 18th century

• increasing pauperisation of the agricultural workforce because of emergence of the landless, wage-dependent rural labourer

• rural unrest breaking out from the mid-1790s until the 1840s

• decline of obligations to provide charity to the rural poor by landowners

• British empire expanding

• Debates over acceptability of slavery

• growing awareness of ‘heathen’ souls whose conversion to Christianity meshed with Evangelical theology and objectives

‘women’s mission’

• justification for women’s engagement with philanthropy

Hannah More (Coelebs, p.138)

• ‘charity is the calling of a lady and the care of the poor... her profession’

• strong Christian imperative - from arguably the most influential women writer on women’s conduct in this period

Davidoff & Hall interpretation:

• importance of Evangelical theology in explaining how middle-class women took up a ‘mission’ to care for and attempt to reform those parts of society which they believed needed their attention

• there were contradictions in Evangelical theology because it simultaneously represented women as spiritually equal to men but socially subordinate

• middle-class women could exploit these contradictions between spiritual equality and social subordination; this meant that,

• within their homes, women could emphasise their roles as moral guardians and assume responsibility for the religious and moral education of those under their roof - i.e. their children and servants;

• having established their moral and spiritual status in the domestic sphere, they were then equipped to extend their moral responsibilities beyond the home into the homes and lives of the poor

• in doing so, middle-class women had, in effect, blurred the boundaries between the separate spheres of male and female activity

• had, in practice, negotiated with middle-class men what the gender roles of men and women were to be

• had created for themselves an extended role as public women

BUT motivations for philanthropy derived not solely from Evangelicalism

Middle-class women from all religious denominations involved , e.g. Quakers, Unitarians, Methodists

HOWEVER, women’s interest in philanthropy - may have derived from even more diverse and complex sources than the above suggest

• Colley (ch.6) - women’s civic consciousness and interest in public affairs heightened by late 18th and early 19th century wars against the French and

• in the immediate post-war period - loyal addresses, patriotic fundraising, campaigning and petitioning on behalf of Queen Caroline – women defending their right to intervene in public debates because of their domestic and moral roles as wives and mothers

Women’s Philanthropy

some statistics

1893 survey by Louisa Hubbard and Angla Burdett-Coutts for The Englishwoman’s Yearbook

500,000 women worked ‘continuously and semi-professionally’ (unpaid) in philanthropy

20,000 paid female officials in charitable societies

their figures exclude 20,000 trained nurses, 5,000 nuns (Anglican and Catholic), and 200,000 women enrolled in the Mothers’ Union

compare with 1891 national census - about 500,000 female domestic servants, 330,000 female workers in cotton manufacture, 24,000 women agricultural workers

Women’s activities

The relief of poverty

Prochaska - ‘virtually every woman who did not receive charity was likely to dispense it’

what was different about 19th philanthropy?

• systematic and organised

• based on voluntary associations called visiting societies - these were first est. in the late 18th century and there were hundreds by the middle of the 19th - middle-class institutions set up to assist the working class

• areas to be visited were identified and divided into districts

• lady visitors assigned to districts

• visiting of the poor carried out on a regular basis

Hannah Kilham, a Quaker widow and Sheffield Society for Bettering the Condition of the Poor (1803)

set of assumptions underlay the Society’s aims:

poverty, if not a sin, was an indicator of moral failure on the part of the poor because

it prevented their self-improvement

on the other hand, the poor should not be passive recipients of charity

they had a pro-active role to play in their own improvement and well-being

they should cultivate positive virtues of self-discipline, hard work, honesty;

working-class women should make home a welcoming place with wholesome food and decent clothing (cf Wollstonecraft, Vindication)

lady visitors’ role was to encourage the poor to become independent of charity

they were to do so by providing moral and practical instruction, rather than handouts, although they did distribute food and clothing in times of particular hardship;

they also set up a Thrift Club for working-class women

Bible-women - Mrs Ellen Ranyard - working-class and middle-class women - Bible women were recruited from the working class, ‘missing link’ between the very poorest and the rest of humanity - live amongst the poor, sold Bibles on instalments and advise the poor on domestic matters - successful - by 1862 operated nationwide, and then through N. America and the Empire

Suppression of vice/adoption of abstinence

temperance movement

Temperance - moral improvement through abstention from alcoholic beverages

Middle-class women philanthropists aimed to discourage the poor from their usual behaviour, such as drinking and carousing in pubs and taverns, and encourage them to reform their ways

The temperance campaign had a complex history and drew support from middle-class and working class radical groups, such as Chartists.

Anne Carlile, a Presbyterian widow, set up

Band of Hope - children who had committed themselves to temperance,

Women’s role in the temperance movement has been somewhat played down because women did not act as agents in the national movement except as unpaid helpers

however, their influence was strong, particularly as Sunday School teachers;

although the temperance movement was associated with non-conformists, there was also revival in the Church of England’s interest in temperance in the 1850s, in which women played a part

prison reform

lady visitors also active in visiting institutions such as asylums and prisons

aims; to bring cleanliness, godliness (reading the Bible) and occupation (usually needlework) to women inmates

Catherine Cappe organising lady visitors to the Asylum in York in 1813 and 1814 Elizabeth Fry in Newgate Gaol in London (1820s),

Sarah Martin at Yarmouth Gaol (1819-1839).

Treatment of young offenders

Mary Carpenter (Seth Koven)

Carpenter a spinster, non-conformist, educated to be a teacher;

worked amongst the poor and criminal children of Bristol in 1840s and 1850s;

1846 set up a privately-run school for poor children in Lewin’s Mead, Bristol (a slum area) -

1850 reformatory school at Kingswood

1851 published Reformatory Schools for the Children of the Perishing and Dangerous Classes and for Juvenile Offenders - well-received

1854-1860 set up girls’ reformatory school at Red Lodge

these were voluntary enterprises which Carpenter ran herself, funded by voluntary donations

aim: rehabilitation of young offenders away from the corrupting influence of hardened adult criminals

Carpenter’s regimes based on Christian love and morality –

saw herself as a ‘public mother’ but eventually superintendent at Red Lodge had to use corporal punishment to attempt to maintain order at Red Lodge

Women and the Shaping of Social Policy

Historians agree that women philanthropists were influential in shaping social policy; e.g Mary Carpenter and Louisa Twining

Carpenter and Twining both got the areas in which they worked onto a national public agenda

Carpenter internationally recognised expert on juvenile delinquents - defined the need for a new kind of institution for poor children - one based on education, rather than punishment

with a male colleague, set up the first national conference on juvenile delinquents in 1852

gave evidence to government committees investigating the problems of poor and criminal children

Carpenter also published books setting out her methods of juvenile reformation;

many of Carpenter’s ideas were incorporated in legislation on poor and criminal children but, despite her protests,

government legislation ensured that treatment of young offenders had to include a punitive element – brief imprisonment

Louisa Twining

middle-class, well-educated Anglican, influenced by work of Sarah Martin

Twining wrote and lectured on workhouse reform on which she became an expert; appointed secretary of the Workhouse Visiting Society;

This Society, through its visitors, brought about improvements in workhouses

succeeded in breaking down prejudices and barriers between the outside world and workhouse officials and inmates;

however, Twining and Carpenter did not agree about the extent to which government should be involved in welfare provision

Twining’s influence on social policy - underlined contemporary belief, amongst women philanthropists, in the value of their work – also that misery and despair were inevitable wherever feminine influence was ignored

She believed, however, that govt. had a part to play in welfare provision

on the other hand, Mary Carpenter, like Octavia Hill (who belonged to a later generation)

opposed state-initiated welfare schemes and distrusted what she saw as government interference.

Carpenter reluctantly accepted state funding (saw few alternatives) but

insisted that control of welfare institutions should be left in the hands of volunteers because they were ‘the best means of supplying to the child the parental relation’.

Voluntary Associations and the State

Women’s involvement in charity work was not an uncontested activity

It was viewed in different ways by different groups

at the individual level, women’s reception ambivalent

male hostility widespread - the 1835 Commission on Prisons reported unfavourably on Elizabeth Fry’s work in Newgate Gaol

govt. inspectors criticised Mary Carpenter’s management of Red Lodge, forcing her to resign;

lady visitors to workhouses often met, particularly in the early years of their work, considerable resistance and opposition to gaining entry, let alone undertaking charitable tasks within the workhouses

Women’s mission in 19th century in flux –

tensions between what was to be encouraged (i.e. their increasing involvement in charitable activities) and

what was not (i.e. their increasing involvement in the public sphere) ;

Koven - from the 1840s onwards, the relationship between women’s voluntary activities and the state changed, and became more gendered

government welcomed women’s voluntary work at local levels - it kept down public expenditure;

on the other hand, middle-class women’s activity was channelled into traditional areas of female expertise, care of the poor, sick, uneducated;

in doing so, women philanthropists accepted a gender-based division of charitable work and expertise –

women focused their claims to influence over social welfare on traditional areas of women’s competence –

all in all, there was an inverse relationship between state involvement in philanthropy and women’s power and influence over welfare projects


Working-Class Responses to Women’s Philanthropy

Transmission of Values

Philanthropy undertaken on the grounds that women had something unique to offer their fellow women Sarah Lewis, Woman’s Mission, the ‘flow of maternal love’.

However, altruistic the majority of middle-class women were,

19th century philanthropy had strong connections with middle-class notions of superiority of class, education and race;

if middle-class women were to engage in charity work, there had to be groups in need of their attention and in need of reformation.

questions of race

Kilham visited Ireland (1822-23) as a member of the British and Irish Ladies Society

saw the Irish as uncivilised, Catholic, and a colonial people.

however, believed that the Protestant lady visitors would inculcate virtues of piety and industry in the Irish Catholic female poor


middle-class women had to differentiate themselves from the objects of their philanthropy and they did this through a range of types of language in which they described the recipients of charity;

these were intended to show their superiority over the British working class and colonised people overseas

Hannah Kilham used an ‘optical language’ when discussing how philanthropic work should be carried out amongst the poor - the poor were a particular species to be observed and studied.

hierarchies of class existed within the visiting societies –

Ellen Ranyard’s Bible women, working-class paid workers were the ‘foot soldiers’ who could gain entry into the homes of the poorest where middle-class women would not accepted whilst middle-class women could act as supervisors BUT

Bible Women scheme offered employment opportunities to working-class women beyond the conventional ones of domestic service or needlework

Ranyard extended her schemes to recruit Bible Nurses - poor women were trained as paid nurses to visit and assist slum families

it should not be assumed that the working-classes accepted middle-class philanthropy passively - indeed Hannah Kilham had argued that working class women should be responsible for their own and their families’ self-improvement;

accounts of reception of lady visitors suggest that working-class women’s responses were complex – some working-class women totally rejected help; others took those things which they wanted and ignored those that they did not

Mary Carpenter’s ‘loving’ response to juvenile deliquents was often seen as ‘soft’ by the female inmates - tried to burn down the reformatories

New Avenues for Middle-Class Women

• established conventions, from 18th century, of women writing novels, pamphlets etc. and campaigning on moral issues

• what different in 19th century?

• imbalance in population ratios between adult men and adult women in 19th century together with uncertainties of healthcare resulted in large numbers of ‘redundant’ women (ie. spinsters)

• philanthropic endeavours would recast them, in Mary Carpenter’s words, as ‘glorified spinsters’

• women with individual self-worth rather than the objects of society’s pity

• Carpenter saw philanthropy as an outlet for the benevolent intentions of widowed and unmarried women, as well as married ones

• Twining’s work influential in establishing a publicly-appointed role for philanthropic women

• women making public speeches on philanthropic matters, rather than handing speeches to men to read for them


1. The roles which women played as care providers, policy makers and clients in the construction of the British welfare state has been overlooked.

2. Working-class women, as well as middle-class ones, involved in charity work. Working-class women should not be seen as passively accepting charity - many were astute at negotiating for the help that they thought appropriate.

3. Nineteenth-century middle-class women’s voluntary associations linked the private female world of the home and family to the public male-dominated world of politics. Philanthropic women were often able to make the connections between charity and politics.