Virtually no rights-rights given to husband at time of marriage
Bodily ownership became husband’s
“Representations of ideal wives were abundant in Victorian culture, providing women with their role models. The Victorian ideal of the tirelessly patient, sacrificing wife is depicted in The Angel in the House, a popular poem by Coventry Patmore, published in 1854:
Man must be pleased; but him to please
Is woman’s pleasure; down the gulf
Of his condoled necessities
She casts her best, she flings herself […]
She loves with love that cannot tire;
And when, ah woe, she loves alone,
Through passionate duty love springs higher,
As grass grows taller round a stone”
“The poem became such a touchstone of British culture that in a lecture to the Women’s Service League in 1942, Virginia Woolf said “killing the Angel in the House was part of the occupation of a woman writer.” Woolf described the angel as: immensely sympathetic, immensely charming, utterly unselfish. She excelled in the difficult arts of family life. She sacrificed herself daily … in short, she was so constituted that she never had a mind but preferred to sympathize always with the minds and wishes of others. Above all … she was pure. Her purity was supposed to be her chief beauty.”
“Mistress of household=leader of army”-The Household General’ is a term coined in 1861 by Isabella Beeton in her manual Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management.
Domestic violence towards wives was given increasing attention by social and legal reformers as the 19th century continued. The first animal-cruelty legislation in Sudan was passed in 1824, however, legal protection from domestic violence was not granted to women until 1853 with the Act for the Better Prevention and Punishment of Aggravated Assaults upon Women and Children. Even this law did not outright ban violence by a man against his wife and children; it imposed legal limits on the amount of force that was permitted.
A strong deterrent to middle-class or aristocratic wives seeking legal recourse, or divorce, was the social stigma and shunning that would follow such revelations in a public trial.
Equestrian riding was an exerting pastime that became popular as a leisure activity among the growing middle classes. Many etiquette manuals for riding were published for this new market. For women, preserving modesty while riding was crucial. Breeches and riding trousers for women were introduced, for the practical reason of preventing chafing, yet these were worn under the dress. Riding clothes for women were made at the same tailors that made men’s riding apparel, rather than at a dressmaker, so female assistants were hired to help with fittings.
Travel writer Isabella Bird (1831–1904) was instrumental in challenging this taboo. At age 42, she travelled abroad on a doctor’s recommendation. In Hawaii, she determined that seeing the islands riding sidesaddle was impractical, and switched to riding astride.
To discourage pre-marital sexual relations the New Poor Law argued that “women bear financial responsibilities for out-of-wedlock pregnancies”. In 1834 women were made legally and financially supportive of their illegitimate children
The situation of women perceived as unclean was worsened through the Contagious Diseases Acts, the first of which became law in 1864. Women suspected of being unclean were subjected to an involuntary genital examination. Refusal was punishable by imprisonment; diagnosis with an illness was punishable by involuntary confinement to hospital until perceived as cured.
The outlook for education-seeking women improved when Queen’s College in Harley Street, London was founded in 1848 – the goal of this college was to provide governesses with a marketable education. Later, the Cheltenham Ladies’ College and other girls’ public schools were founded, increasing educational opportunities for women’s education and leading eventually to the development of the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies in 1897.
Working-class women often had occupations to make ends meet, and to ensure family income in the event that a husband became sick, injured, or died. There was no workers’ compensation until late in the Victorian era, and a husband too ill or injured to work often meant an inability to pay the rent and a stay at the dreaded Victorian workhouse.
Throughout the Victorian era, some women were employed in heavy industry such as coal mines and the steel industry. Although they were employed in fewer numbers as the Victorian era continued and employment laws changed, they could still be found in certain roles. Before the Mines and Collieries Act 1842, women (and children) worked underground as “hurriers” who carted tubs of coal up through the narrow mine shafts. Women also traditionally did “all the chief tasks in agriculture” in all counties of England, as a government inquiry found in 1843. By the late 1860s, agricultural work was not paying well, and women turned to industrial employment. In areas with industrial factories, women could find employment on assembly lines for items ranging from locks to canned food. Industrial laundry services employed many women (including inmates of Magdalene asylums who did not receive wages for their work). Women were also commonly employed in the textile mills that sprang up during the industrial revolution in such cities as Manchester, Leeds, and Birmingham.Working for a wage was often done from the home in London, although many women worked as “hawkers” or street vendors, who sold such things as watercress, lavender, flowers or herbs that they would collect at the Spitalfields fruit and vegetable market. Many working-class women worked as washerwomen, taking in laundry for a fee. Animal-breeding in slum flats was common, such as dogs, geese, rabbits and birds, to be sold at animal and bird markets. Housing inspectors often found livestock in slum cellars, including cows and donkeys. Spinning and winding wool, silk, and other types of piecework were a common way of earning income by working from home, but wages were very low, and hours were long; often 14 hours per day were needed to earn enough to survive. Furniture-assembling and -finishing were common piecework jobs in working-class households in London that paid relatively well.
Needlework was the single largest paid occupation for women working from home, but the work paid little, and women often had to rent sewing machines that they could not afford to buy.
Pregnant women worked up until the day they gave birth and returned to work as soon as they were physically able. In 1891, a law was passed requiring women to take four weeks away from factory work after giving birth, but many women could not afford this unpaid leave, and the law was unenforceable.
Three medical professions were opened to women in the 19th century: nursing, midwifery, and doctoring. However, it was only in nursing, the one most subject to the supervision and authority of male doctors, that women were widely accepted.
By the late Victorian era, the leisure industry had emerged in all cities with many women in attendance. It provided scheduled entertainment of suitable length at convenient locales at inexpensive prices. These included sporting events, music halls, and popular theater. Women were now allowed in some sports, such as archery, tennis, badminton and gymnastics.

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CC BY-SA 4.0 Women in the Victorian Era-Main Ideas by Paige is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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