Middle class women represented a very small group at this time and so there was a lot less women to educate. However, the change that they underwent was huge. For the first time middle class women were breaking out of there homes, attending school and getting qualifications. For the determined few this meant going further on to university with some even becoming the first women doctors, this was the first time women were seen trying for professional jobs. These women played a very symbolic part in women’s emancipation, as they were role models for other women.
“If she can do it then why can’t I? ” was a common phrase of academic women at this time. However there is a debate about the nature of this change. Was this universal education really meant to free women and aid their emancipation or was this just another form of social control? Sure this looked like women were being given the chance to make more of themselves than just desperate housewives but this could have merely been a way of controlling women to keep them happy so that they could be taught whatever the men in the government saw fit.
Another area that has showed a great amount of change for women in the last century is employment. At the beginning of the 19th Century most people lived in a rural environment. With the industrial revolution came a large urbanized working class and growth in the middle class from 1815 onwards. At The beginning of this time most women were employed as farm laborers or worked at home. Up until 1842 women could work down the mines until legislation came out restricting hours and banning women from working down them. This can be viewed in two ways.
It stopped women from enduring the harsh conditions that mining involved, however, it can be seen to treat women like children, who need looking after. Women also lost their jobs and would have been without pay, this can be seen as an example of regression, the men made the rules and the women had to follow them regardless. Domestic services became increasingly popular with many women going to serve in middle class houses. This was better then working down the coal mines because the conditions were better and you would receive food and lodgings.
However, the pay was very bad compared even with factory pay, but the middle class was rising and the need for domestic services was rising with it. Middle class women were generally expected to stay at home and look after the children as the Victorian “Angel of the Home” stereotype dictated. The creation of many new factories meant new conditions for many workers. The largest area in this field for women was the textiles industry, more women were being employed and number of men was falling, this was a major step towards emancipation.
However the workers now had to face “the clock” working set hours for a poor wage, men were still paid a substantial amount more regardless of experience. Thus inequalities still remained and this went as far as to ban women from the high paid jobs leading us to believe that rather then emancipation this could lead to regression where women are just being used as a form of cheap labour. Trade unions were very much male dominated at this time, with female unions not taking off till the beginning of the 19th century. Many men did not want women in the unions as they felt threatened by them.
Many men at this time wanted to keep the women in the home, so they did not threaten the position and wages of the male worker. Middle class women were less affected by the revolution because they remained at home until the second half of the 19th century. However, the revolution prompted the spread of many ideas initially among the better educated middle class women who began to challenge their domestic roles, later on came ideas from working class groups such as the Chartists and Marx. However, there was some continuity the percentage of women employed remained almost constant between 1851 and 1881.
This can be seen as regression because the number was not yet rising. During the second half of the 19th century women began to form their own trade unions much to the fear of the men at the time. With the Women’s Trade Union being set up in 1884 to represent women on a national level. The Match girls’ strike of 1888 was a further step towards better working conditions. Women were also beginning to step out into other fields, Elizabeth Garret became the first woman to attempt to qualify as a doctor, she eventually succeeded in France, and after this she set up an avenue for female doctors.
Although the numbers remained small this was still a large step towards women’s emancipation. Women, especially the middle class could now become more educated. This led to women demanding better jobs as those who were educated were very reluctant to become the stereotyped domestic idyll, this is proved by a drop in marriages during this period as women further gained their independence. In an even further step towards emancipation the Sex Disqualification Act was passed in 1919 which now allowed women to go for the majority of higher level jobs such as lawyers, judges and being able to sit on juries.
Towards the end of the 19th century and entering the 20th century the middle class had grown significantly. There was a significant gender imbalance, which led to many, more middle class women being employed, the birth rate also dropped during this time with the increased availability of contraception, this allows more women to be employed. The death rate was also dropping at the same time due to many medical advances and better general care. Because of the compulsory education act many working class girls could also now get better paid jobs.
However with all these advances there was still discrimination. Women were lowly paid and were dismissed with marriage this is a point of regression. Due to the better education there were more women teachers, they were teaching young men who would respect them when they grew up, this would eventually lead to a society that accepted women as equal workers in every aspect and earnt them their emancipation is this field. Women also gained a lot in the field of politics. Women were on local boards for schools and the board of guardians.
Some women were allowed to vote in local elections, you had to be single and a rate payer for your vote to count, this can be seen as a step forward although not a great one. Women could now campaign for other people’s rights as well as for themselves. Before this men thought that women could have their vote through their husband and that a vote from a women was a wasted one. Thus women campaigned hard for their entry into politics, as this was where the key to change really lay. In 1897 Woman’s suffrage committees linked together by Millicent Fawcett to become the national union of woman suffrage societies.
She believed in peaceful campaigning and slow progress. The Pankhursts then founded the Women’s Social and Political union (WSPU) in 1903, which was supported by the suffragettes. Women’s legal position was extremely weak towards the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th century. A husband could lock up his wife until 1891, beat his wife until 1879. He owned all his wives earnings and belongings until 1882 and it was not until 1920 that a woman could own her own home and possessions as an individual.
Before 1850, political rights and individual rights were more generally allowed only to men from the wealthier sections of society. Women at this time were thought to b incapable of rational thought and from the mid 18th century women from the wealthier sections of society were excluded from political debates, economics and were expected to behave as a lady should, respectable and refined. Increasingly, women were found to lack the professional training and other forms of specialized knowledge.
Prospering merchants and retailers tended to move their homes away form their place of work, leaving their wives and daughters t play their domestic roles in the home thus excluding them from other opportunities in the world around them. There is a lot of evidence to suggest that women were greatly emancipated during this period, there is a lot more evidence to suggest that they were given freedom rather than having it taken away. With regard to the extent of change it is obvious that it differs with different groups.
The working classes were emancipated up to a point but after this there is only continuity until further into the future. The middle classes had more of a head start as they were able to get into higher education and into professional jobs although they were the minority group at this time the extent of change was great but with fewer numbers achieving emancipation and dependence. The emancipation of women at this early stage was very important to the rest of woman’s history as it gave way to the suffragette years and their campaign for complete equality that followed in the years to come.