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'Casting her gentility on the waters': Middle class women and employment with reference to the Englishwoman's Journal and Englishwoman's review

Ross, Rosemund (1987) 'Casting her gentility on the waters': Middle class women and employment with reference to the Englishwoman's Journal and Englishwoman's review. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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Employment for women was a major concern for nineteenth century British feminists, during the 1850s of the plight of middle class women with no means of support was highlighted by the 1851 Census The realisation which revealed that one-third of British women were unmarried. The only two occupations open to middle class 'ladies' who wished to retain their status, governessing and needlework, were overcrowded and underpaid. This led to a campaign to broaden the definition of women's work in order to provide employment for destitute middle class women.

The Englishwoman's Journal spearheaded this. campaign by attempting to re-define the concept of gentility to include paid employment, It argued that in addition to an improved general education, women required occupational training to equip themselves with the skills required for specific employment. The Englishwoman's Journal asserted that women needed-to exert more control over their lives, and that independence would increase their worth to the community and to themselves.

The Englishwoman's Review, first published in 1886, initially followed the example set by the Englishwoman's Journal (1858). However attempts by philanthropists and trade unions to regulate women's employment through protective legislation drew the Englishwoman's Review into conflict with the 'social welfare' feminists. The Review, strongly influenced by the 'equal rights' philosophy of the Enlightenment, opposed attempts to introduce discriminatory legislation that applied only to women workers, it broadened its focus to include those employed working class women whose livelihoods were threatened by protective legislation, and organised campaigns opposed to State intervention in the workplace.

The Society for Promoting the Employment of Women was the 'practical' arm of these periodicals. Established in 1858, the Society's objectives were improved education and occupational training for women; the collection of employment information and the establishment of a work registrar for women; and the initiation of 'experimental ventures' designed to test the suitability of a particular employment for middle class women. Firmly espousing the doctrine of 'self-help', the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women emphasised that it was not a charity. It sought to create conditions under which women would be able to find employment that was suited to their capabilities; it did not relieve immediate distress.

The effectiveness of the Englishwoman's Journal, the Englishwoman's Review, and the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women in increasing the employment opportunities for middle class women in nineteenth century Britain can only be measured in general terms. However their success in defining as feminine certain employment areas within the service industries, has had a major impact on the employment of women during the twentieth century.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Humanities
Supervisor(s): Jalland, Patricia
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