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Should Women Work?

In the latter part of the 19th century, it was becoming increasingly evident that "well bred" young women could no longer rely upon marriage as their means of support in life. As Sophia Caulfield notes in 1890 in her article, Women's Clubs in London, "...we may observe the increase of improvident marriages and those of the physically unsuitable, the many failures of financial enterprises, the deterioration of the value of land... Thus the daughters of the very elite of the untitled aristocracy are driven from become the bread-earners for themselves and their families..."

However, it is clear from examining the articles aimed at helping young ladies find "suitable" employment that they are, indeed, aimed at "the daughters of the elite." There were no concerns as to whether the work done by women of the working class was "suitable" or "feminine" -- it was simply what people of that class did. The question was what well bred women might do -- without jeopardizing their breeding or standing in society. In short, these articles are not about helping women move up in society, but about what women may do if they are forced to move down. It will be awhile yet before it becomes widely accepted that well-bred women might work by choice rather than necessity!

This section covers the debate on whether women should enter the workplace; the section on Career Opportunities for the Victorian Woman looks at specific job categories considered "suitable."

Articles are arranged chronologically.


The Importance of Women's Work, by the Rev. E.J. Hardy (GOP 1885)
Though this article begins as an ode to domesticity, it concludes by pointing out that every girl should learn a handicraft, for "You can never tell how soon you may want it. How do you know that your father is not spending his capital--has not speculated, and will not leave you all penniless? Half the women in the United Kingdom have to support themselves somehow, and not a few of them, I blush to own it, support the men."
English Girls by Agatha Hart (GOP 1888)
On earning a living, household economies, women's rights, and the realities that English girls face - this article covers a lot of ground!
Professional Mens' Wives (GOP 1890)
"Girls and women are fond of speculating what profession they would have entered if they had belonged to the other sex.... Well, young ladies, you cannot directly fill these positions, but you can do so indirectly, in a way that is quite as honourable and not less influential. You may marry, and have in your hands the moulding of the careers of men who are clergymen, lawyers, doctors, officers, and such like."
The Vocations of Men and Women, by the Rev. Dr. Tremlett (GOP 1890)
Why women should remain...well, women! (And not try to take all those positions designed by God for men!)
Mademoiselle L'Incomprise, by Lily Watson (GOP 1893)
"Few social questions in the present day are more frequently asked than, What shall women do with their lives? What are they fitted to be? In what is the tradition of the past at fault? And all this stir and unrest cannot but powerfully affect the mental condition of the growing womanhood of our time."
The Progress of Women's Work, by S.F.A. Caulfield (GOP 1894)
A remarkable overview of the progress of women in various trades, such as medicine, covering not only England but the rest of the world as well.
Women's Work: Its Value and Possibilities (GOP 1895)
An American Woman on the English Working Girl (GOP 1895)
A short piece on why, or whether, the English working-girl is "underpaid."
No Place at Home, by Lucy Yates (GOP 1896)
A somewhat confusing little piece that seems to be suggesting that young ladies should certainly be allowed to seek employment and test their wings -- but also should not enter into employment as "dabblers" and take jobs away from those who genuinely need them.
Girls at Work (GOP 1897)
On the dangers of limiting one's "ambitions" to those careers still considered "genteel" for ladies.
A Pound a Week; Why Girls Should Earn It, by Margaret Bateson (GOP 1897)
The Strides of Women, by Norma Lorimer (GOP 1898)
A summary of women's progress to date, including an overview of important women of the day.
Girls of Fifty Years Ago and Now, by Emma Brewer (GOP 1901)
On how far women have come since 1850 in education, careers, independence and more.
Copyright © 2017 by
Moira Allen.
All rights reserved.

Magazine Abbreviations:
CFM = Cassell's Family Magazine GOP = Girl's Own Paper ILA = Illustrated London Almanack S = The Strand
AM = Atlantic Monthly C = Century Magazine D = Demorest's Monthly Magazine G = Godey's Lady's Book H = Harper's Monthly
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