4GK005 Campaigning and Citizenship

Week 2 The Condition of Women in Britain and its Empire


Citizenship - a citizen is a full member of a state, with individual legal rights and the right to participate in politics
Subordination - a group is subordinated when it is treated as inferior to another group, has less power, fewer rights and fewer opportunities
Condition - the way in which people live - particularly their economic and social situation
Role - what a group in society are expected to do
Position - the status, power, condition and role of one group compared to another

Generalizations about the 19th century

At beginning of 1800s, only small minority of population of Britain and Empire had citizenship rights - in Britain, right to vote extended to m/c men in towns 1832, w/c men in towns who were householders in 1867, w/c men in rural areas who were householders in 1884.
As British direct rule over colonies extended during 1800s, everyone considered to be 'subjects' of the British Crown.

Generalizations about Women

Women considered as inferior to and different from men
Their inferiority seen as stemming from
  • biological weakness (i.e. reproductive function detracted from mental capacity and physical strength)
  • moral weakness (in the Christian bible, it was Eve who tempted Adam to disobey God's instructions, leading to the expulsion of human beings from the Garden of Eden)
These biological and moral weaknesses provided the basis of women's differences from men
  • justified exclusion of women from 'public sphere' of politics, industry, commerce, education
  • justified their restriction to the 'private sphere' of home, children and family
By the middle of the 19th century, some of women's alleged differences from men were being expressed in terms of women's superiority to men - women purer, more modest, more self-controlled, more moral, more caring, more self sacrificing.

Task for students - identify the disadvantages for women in this list of virtues!

Queen Victoria, Prince Albert & their family, 1857 Queen Victoria, Prince Albert & their family, 1857
Helix - National Arts Slide Library Record
Copyright of De Montfort University and Associates

Victorian Women Social and Economic Status

Differences between Women

Although all women's lives were shaped by male dominance, the material conditions of women's lives varied enormously and were structured by inequalities based on class and colour.
The ways in which women were subordinated to men also varied according to their social circumstances.

Task for students - identify some of the differences between the lives of women slaves and the wives of slave owners, between aristocratic women and their domestic servants, between women factory workers and the wives of factory owners, between the wives of colonial administrators in India and the wives of Indian civil servants.

The Caribbean

Sugar Cane Harvest, Jamaica, 1820s. Sugar Cane Harvest, Jamaica, 1820s.
H. T. De La Beche, Notes on the Present Condition of the Negroes in Jamaica (London, 1825), frontspiece.
(Copy in the John Carter Brown Library at Brown University)
http://gropius.lib.virginia.edu/Slavery/search.html (not accessible 29/9/10)

Women slaves were often the majority of those who worked in the fields - specialist jobs as boilers, distillers and drivers went to men.
Slave women had low fertility rates - up to 1800, marriage and cohabitation discouraged by slave owners, after 1807 encouraged.

Task for students - why do you think this was?

1760 Slave revolt in Jamaica

1792-1804 Slave revolt in San Domingo (French colony) eventually established independent Black nation in Haiti

1808 Slave trade abolished in British Empire

1816 Slave revolt in Barbados

1831 Slave revolt at Montego Bay, Jamaica

1834 Slaves 'emancipated' - but had to work 45 hours a week unpaid for former owners for 4 years. Owners got 20 million pounds compensation - slaves got no compensation (see Peter Fryer, Black People in the British Empire, 1988)

Planters destroyed provision grounds on which slaves had grown food and used their influence in local government to prevent freed slaves buying fertile land collectively - many ex-slaves and their descendants returned to work on plantations.

'The visible chains of slavery were replaced by invisible chains of poverty, poor education, deprivation and racial prejudice' F McDonough, The British Empire 1815-1914, 1994.

Sugar Cane Cultivation, British West Indies, 1840s Sugar Cane Cultivation, British West Indies, 1840s (after slave emancipation)
The Illustrated London News (June 9, 1849), vol. 14, p. 388; see also Ballou's Pictorial (Feb. 10, 1855), pp. 84-85.
(Copy in Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library)
http://gropius.lib.virginia.edu/Slavery/search.html (not accessible 29/9/10)

1835 First free black men (5) elected to Jamaican Assembly

1838-1917 Indentured Indian labour scheme - involved 500,000 people, both men and women - agreed to work for 5 years - no freedom to change employers, badly paid and ill treated - very low birth rate and very high death rate.

1865 Morant Bay rebellion in Jamaica - result of unrest among rural w/c

1865 Direct rule by Britain

1870s Beginnings of demands for political rights by Creole population of British Guiana

1876 Riots in Barbados

1903 Riots in Trinidad

1904 Riots on British Guiana

Women's Resistance to Slavery


Before British arrived, villages owned land communally and paid percentage of their produce to ruler. British introduced landlordism in some areas and individual peasant proprietorship in others. British raised taxes annually irrespective of quality of harvest.

1770s 10 million people died in Bengal famine. India had textile, metal and ship building industries - textile industry destroyed by British because it competed with British textile industy.

1829 Sati Abolition Act - abolished the practice of some widows burning themselves on their husband's funeral pyre - was not a widespread practice - seen by some m/c Indian reformers and many British administrators as primitive practice. (See R Kumar, A History of Doing, 1993)

'The reform of Hinduism became a vital issue is the Indians were to counter the attacks and criticisms of the British, and, ultimately if they were to resist British domination.' Liddle, J. & Joshi, R. (1986) Daughters of Independence. Gender, Caste and Class in India, p. 82.

Maja Daruwala on history of Sati legislation in India
The Sati system
Linda Heaphy on The Practice of Sati or Widow burning
Speech by William Bentinck, Governor General of India

1854 - 1901 29 million Indians starved to death

1856 Hindu Widows Remarriage Act - high caste Hindus practised child marriage and prohibited remarriage of widows - lower caste Hindus did neither - lifting of ban on former affected property rights of latter group (See R Kumar, A History of Doing, 1993)

'Few women of the upper castes availed themselves to their new right to remarry, while those widows who, in the exercise of their customary rights, remarried independently of the Act, found themselves now subject to the forfeiture clause of Section 2, regardless of their Customary Law which permitted a widow to remarry and certainly in many, if not most, cases permitted her also to retain property inheritied from her first husband', Carroll, L. (1989) 'Law, Custom and Statutory Social Reform: the Hindu Widows' Remarriage Act of 1856' in Krishnamurty, J. (ed) Women in Colonial India: Essays on Survival, Work and the State, p. 25.

1857-8 Indian Mutiny - against background of peasant rebellions, Indian troops in British army refused to use new breech loading rifle because cartridges greased with animal fat and tips of cartridges had to be bitten off before insertion - imprisoned and then released by force - Indian troops took over Delhi, Lucknow and Cawnpore - one of leaders was 23 year old woman, Laxmi Bai, who died in battle - massacre of British at Cawnpore led to indiscriminate killing by British forces.

British India before and after the Great Rebellion of 1857 by Professor Peter Marshall

1872 Marriage Act - minimum age 14 for women and 18 for men.

1881 Indian Factories Act - children between 7 and 11 limited to 9 hours work a day

1891 9-13 year olds limited to 7 hours a day, women to 11 hours a day

Women collecting water, India, 1947 Women collecting water, India, 1947
Helix - Picture Post Record,
Copyright of Hulton Getty Picture Collection

Women carrying water, India, 1947
Helix - Picture Post Record,
Copyright of Hulton Getty Picture Collection
Women carrying water, India, 1947


Most land owned by absentee English landowners and worked by tenant farmers and landless labourers

1845 Potato harvest blighted

1845-9 1 million people died of starvation and associated disease. 1 million Irish people emigrated

The Irish Famine by Jim Donnelly
The Irish Famine by Marjie Bloy
Views of the Famine


1851 3 million women employed - 42% of workforce

80% of women workers in domestic service, clothing trades and textile industry

Cotton Workers 1872 Cotton Workers 1872
Helix - Social & Political History of Britain Record
Copyright of Hulton Getty Picture Collection

Telegraph Exchange 1871
Helix - Social & Political History of Britain Record
Copyright of Hulton Getty Picture Collection
Telegraph Exchange 1871

2 out of 3 domestic servants were daughters of rural labourers

1873 Women's maximum working week reduced from 60 hours to 54 hours

1882 Typewriters became widely available

1888 TUC voted for equal pay

1888 Matchworker's strike

1900 1.4 million women in residential domestic service

Domestic Servants in Ireland 1895 Domestic Servants in Ireland 1895
Helix - Social & Political History of Britain Record
Copyright of Hulton Getty Picture Collection

1901 3.5 million women employed - 29% of workforce

1910 Strike of women chainmakers in Cradley Heath

1910-11 Wave of strikes by women workers in London

1911 46% of illegitimate births to women who had been in domestic service

1914-18 400,000 women left domestic service for other jobs

Munitions Factory 1914
Helix - Social & Political History of Britain Record
Copyright of Hulton Getty Picture Collection
munitions factory 1914

Domestic Service by George P.Landow
Ruskin on Women Ironworkers
Women Chainmakers of Cradley Heath
Women Miners in the English Coal Pits
Women Chartists
Reginald J. Richardson & The Chartists 1836-1846

Task for students - It is fairly easy to see how the factory system created a separation between home and work for w/c women - how did the development of industry, commerce and the professions during the 19th century affect the daily lives of m/c women?

URL: http://pers-www.wlv.ac.uk/~le1810/4GK005-2.htm
Page created by Penny Welch February 2001/Updated October 2015

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