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Abstract

Within the ubiquitous nineteenth-century discourse of separate spheres, women were portrayed as financially, intellectually and emotionally dependent upon their male kin. They were encouraged to perceive themselves as ‘relative creatures’, whose path in life was to nurture the family and to provide unstinting support for the head of the household. Furthermore, as the great exponent of domestic ideology, Sarah Ellis, proclaimed, if a woman did engage in paid work she, ‘ceases to be a lady’.1 However, as the following discussion will indicate, for countless middle-class families, such injunctions remained but an ideal. Much of the work performed by women — both in the upper and middle classes — such as social work, domestic labour, estate management and participation in family businesses was unpaid and non-contractual. As such, it has remained outside classic definitions of employment. Yet, women, even in the highest social classes, made a considerable contribution to the economic and domestic well-being of both their families and their communities.

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Notes

  1. 1.
    Quoted in Leonore Davidoff and Catherine Hall, Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the Middle Class 1780–1850 (London: Routledge, 1987), p. 315; see also Family Fortunes ch. 3 for a rich discussion of domestic ideology.Google Scholar
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© Kathryn Gleadle 2001

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