Part of the Social History in Perspective book series (SHP)


Between 1860 and 1900 many dramatic advances were seen in middle-class and elite women’s employment. Improvements in educational provision facilitated access to a whole range of new occupations, notably in the medical, clerical, retailing and education sectors. One recent commentator has attributed these developments to the activities of the feminist movement, and in particular, the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women.1 Feminist campaigns were undoubtedly vital in contributing to a climate in which women’s paid employment was increasingly acceptable. However, structural changes in the economy and the continued adherence to notions of gender difference were often more influential in determining the nature of women’s employment. Moreover, for the majority of women, this was period of a stasis, not change. Women continued to engage intraditional’ activities — such as domestic management, child care and philanthropy. Most women entertained a broad definition of work which did not necessarily encompass the concept of paid employment.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    Ellen Jordan, The Women’s Movement and Women’s Employment in Nineteenth- Century Britain (London and New York: Routledge, 1999), pp. 195–7.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Details of these developments may be found in June Purvis, A History of Women’s Education in England (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1991), pp. 75–92;Google Scholar
  3. Jane McDermid, ‘Women and Education’, in June Purvis (ed.), Women’s History: Britain, 1850–1945 (London: UCL, 1995), pp. 109–11;Google Scholar
  4. Maria Luddy (ed.), Women in Ireland, 1800–1918: A Documentary History (Cork: Cork University Press, 1995), pp. 89–92.Google Scholar
  5. 3.
    Carol Dyhouse, Girls Growing Up in Late Victorian and Edwardian England (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), ch. 2, the quotes are from pp. 73 and 92;Google Scholar
  6. Sara Delamont, ‘The Contradictions in Ladies’ Education’, in Sara Delamont and Lorna Duffin (eds), Nineteenth-Century Woman: Her Cultural and Physical World (London: Croom Helm, 1978), pp. 134–63.Google Scholar
  7. 4.
    Ruth Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England 1760–1860 (London: Longmans, 1998), p. 156.Google Scholar
  8. 5.
    The discussion on universities draws on Carol Dyhouse, No Distinction of Sex? Women in British Universities 1870–1939 (London: UCL, 1995), passim.Google Scholar
  9. 6.
    Delamont, ‘The Contradictions in Ladies’ Education’, pp. 134–63, the quote is from p. 157; Barbara Caine, Victorian Feminists (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992), ch. 3.Google Scholar
  10. 7.
    Anne Digby, ‘Women’s Biological Straitjacket’, in Susan Mendus and Jane Rendall (eds), Sexuality and Subordination: Interdisciplinary Studies of Gender in the Nineteenth Century (London and New York: Routledge, 1989), pp. 208–15.Google Scholar
  11. 10.
    Ibid., Martha Vicinus, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850–1920 (London: Virago, 1985), ch. 4;Google Scholar
  12. Janet Howarth and Mark Curthoys, ‘The Political Economy of Women’s Higher Education in Late 19th and Early 20th Century Britain’, Social History, 60 (1987), pp. 108–31.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    Rita McWilliams-Tullberg, ‘Women and Degrees at Cambridge University, 1862–97’, in Martha Vicinus (ed.), A Widening Sphere, Changing Roles of Victorian Women (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1977), p. 125.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    Lee Holcombe, Victorian Ladies at Work: Middle-Class Working Women in England and Wales 1850–1914 (Newton Abbot: David and Charles, 1973), p. 34.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    Juliet Gardiner (ed.), The New Woman: Women’s Voices 1880–1918 (London: Collins and Brown, 1993), pp. 81–2; Vicinus, Independent Women ch. 5.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    Frances Widdowson, ‘Educating Teacher–Women and Elementary Teaching in London, 1900–1914’, in Leonore Davidoff and Belinda Westover (eds), Our Work, Our Lives, Our Worlds: Women’s History and Women’s Work (Basingstoke: Macmillan–now Palgrave, 1986), pp. 99–123.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. 17.
    Joyce Senders Pedersen, ‘Some Victorian Headmistresses: A Conservative Tradition of Social Reform’, Victorian Studies, 29 (1981), pp. 463–88.Google Scholar
  18. 19.
    Elizabeth Roberts, A Woman’s Place: An Oral History of Working-Class Women 1890–1940 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984), pp. 29, 35. The pressures on teachers are brought out inGoogle Scholar
  19. Anna Davin, Growing Up Poor: Home, School and Street in London 1870–1914 (London: Rivers Oram Press, 1996), pt. 2.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    M. Jeanne Peterson, Family, Love and Work in the Lives of Victorian Gentlewomen (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1989), pp. 139–45.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    Pat Jalland, Women, Marriage and Politics, 1860–1914 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 283.Google Scholar
  22. 26.
    Catriona Blake, The Charge of the Parasols: Women’s Entry to the Medical Profession (London: The Women’s Press, 1990), p. 69. This paragraph follows The Charge of the Parasols, passim.Google Scholar
  23. 27.
    Antoinette Burton, ‘Contesting the Zenana: The Mission to Make ‘“Lady Doctors” for India’, 1874–85’, Journal of British Studies, 35 (1995), pp. 368–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. 28.
    Anne Summers, Angels and Citizens: British Women as Military Nurses 1854–1914 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1988), chs 5–7.Google Scholar
  25. 33.
    Pamela Horn, Victorian Countrywomen (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991), p. 218; Summers, Angels or Citizens p. 140.Google Scholar
  26. 34.
    Patricia Hollis (ed.), Women in Public 1850–1900: Documents of the Victorian Women’s Movement (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1979), p. 45.Google Scholar
  27. 35.
    Jane Lewis, Women in England, 1870–1950 (Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1984), p. 197.Google Scholar
  28. 36.
    Ellen Jordan, ‘The Lady Clerks at the Prudential: The Beginning of Vertical Segregation by Sex in Clerical Work in Nineteenth-Century Britain’, Gender and History, 8, no. 1 (1996), pp. 65–81.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Meta Zimmeck, ‘Jobs for the Girls: The Expansion of Clerical Work for Women, 1850–1914’, in Angela V. John (ed.), Unequal Opportunities, Women’s Employment in England 1800–1918 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986), pp. 153–77, quote from p. 165; Holcombe, Victorian Ladies at Work pp. 151, 178–9.Google Scholar
  30. 38.
    Philippa Levine, Victorian Feminism, 1850–1900 (London: Hutchinson, 1987), pp. 93–6.Google Scholar
  31. 42.
    Harriet Bradley, Men’s Work, Women’s Work: A Sociological History of the Sexual Division of Labour in Employment (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1989), p. 180.Google Scholar
  32. 46.
    Peterson, Family, Love and Work, pp. 145–61. For female travellers, see Jane Robinson, Wayward Women: A Guide to Women Travellers (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).Google Scholar
  33. 47.
    J. A. Banks and Olive Banks, Feminism and Family Planning in Victorian England (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1964), passim but see especially p. 12.Google Scholar
  34. 50.
    Carol Dyhouse, Feminism and the Family 1880–1939 (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), ch. 3.Google Scholar
  35. 51.
    A. James Hammerton, Cruelty and Companionship: Conflict in Nineteenth-Century Married Life (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), pp. 114–15.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. 52.
    Jessica Gerard, Country House Life: Family and Servants, 1815–1914 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994), p. 98.Google Scholar
  37. 53.
    Jessica Gerard, ‘Lady Bountiful: Women of the Landed Classes and Rural Philanthropy’, Victorian Studies 30 (1987), pp. 183–211. The quote is on p. 191.Google Scholar
  38. 54.
    Pamela Horn, High Society: The English Social Elite, 1880–1914 (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1992), p. 53.Google Scholar
  39. 57.
    Shelley Pennington and Belinda Westover, A Hidden Workforce: Home-workers in England, 1850–1985 (London: Macmillan–now Palgrave, 1989), pp. 19–21.Google Scholar
  40. 60.
    Peterson, Family, Love and Work, p. 69; Nupur Chaudhuri, ‘Memsahibs and Motherhood in Nineteenth-Century Colonial India’, Victorian Studies, 31 (1988), pp. 534–5.Google Scholar
  41. 61.
    Leonore Davidoff, The Best Circles: Society, Etiquette and the Season (London: Croom Helm, 1973), p. 63; Horn, High Society p. 68.Google Scholar
  42. 64.
    Angela V.John, ‘Beyond Paternalism: The Ironmaster’s Wife in the Industrial Community’, in Angela V. John (ed.), Our Mothers’ Land: Chapters in Welsh Women’s History, 1830–1939 (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 1991), p. 54.Google Scholar
  43. 66.
    F. K. Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1980), p. 224.Google Scholar
  44. 67.
    Peter Williams, ‘“The Missing Link”. The Recruitment of Women Missionaries in Some English Evangelical Missionary Societies in the Nineteenth Century’, in Fiona Bowie, Deborah Kirkwood and Shirley Ardener (eds), Women and Missions: Past and Present. Anthropological and Historical Perceptions (Oxford: Berg Publishers, 1993), p. 43.Google Scholar
  45. 68.
    Catriona Clear, ‘The Limits of Female Autonomy: Nuns in Nineteenth- Century Ireland’, in Maria Luddy and Cliona Murphy (eds), Women Surviving, Studies in Irish Women’s History in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Dublin: Poolbeg Press, 1989), p. 21.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kathryn Gleadle 2001

Authors and Affiliations

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations