Monday, March 16, 2009

Women in the Victorian Era

Welcome to our page about women in the Victorian era. Women have always been strong creatures of nature. Here we will explore lives in the women in the time between 1837-1901, known as the Victorian Era. We will cover women's occupations, traveling, their social classes, prostitution, pregnancy, and their rights. Now let's venture into the world of women in the Victorian Era!


In the Victorian Era, most women were house wives. These women stayed at home and tended to the house and family, but there were a small percentage of women that had other occupations. About 3% of all white women during the Victorian era and 25% of all black women were part of the working force and worked for wages. Most of these women were either a maid, nurse, laundress, teacher, psychiatrist, or social worker. Since there were so few women who worked at these jobs, only 9 out of every 10 homes had domestic help (maid, nurse, or laundress). Besides these jobs there is also another way that some wives stayed at home and earned money. This was by farming; some farm wives earned money from selling butter, milk, and other farm products that they produced on their farm.

Also refer to the Lower Class Women for more jobs.


During the Victorian era, for the most part, women never traveled alone. Most women traveled with their husbands and family to specific locations. The men of the Victorian Era believed that a women's place was at home. They also thought that it was completely useless and they should just stay at home and tend to the house. It was very expensive so only wealthy women could afford these adventures, but most of the time wealthy women's apparel stopped them. They wore corsets, high heeled shoes, long skirts, and other heavy clothing. When it came to the daring women, their motive was usually to escape gender discrimination, to explore other territories, or to further a certain cause.
One of these women that was brave enough to venture out of their own town was Isabella Bird. Isabella traveled when she was younger with her father who was a minister of the Church of England. Eventually she developed a passion for travel and traveled by herself. Even though she had a physical disability, she still was able to overcome this and become a respectable Victorian women traveler. Isabella traveled all over the world to places such as Japan, China, Korea, Persia, Tibet, and the United States.



Wealthy women in society did not have a very difficult life. Their day consisted of activities like sewing, visiting family/friends/paupers,

reading, writing letters, entertaining visitors, and dancing. Although they

did have a variety of activities to do, their days mostly consisted of the same routines.

One of their favorite things to do was to go out to evening parties. If the woman were married, she would often go out with four or

five other couples. If the women were single, she was most likely go out with other unmarried women.

The household wife would dress according to how

wealthy the family was. The more comely looking she appeared to be, the more money the family had.

Also the nicer clothing was equipped with beading, lace, and other jewels. Also, these women changed their clothes up to six times daily


Middle class women can almost be considered guides to the lower class women. During their free time, they would go and help the pauper class women. They would sponsor mothers and babies homes, kindergartens, and health and hygiene reforms. To sponsor someone means that you

pledge a certain amount of money, in this case, to get these woman's daily necessities. Although all of these middle class women had cleaning servants for their homes, they would lecture the lower class women on how to keep their houses clean. This just shows that just because the upper class women had a bit more money

in their pocket, they felt they were superior to these women who actually had to work for their own money.

The goal of these middle class women was to marry into a wealthy relationship. This allowed the women to get more respect from the upper class society and get more goods

The lower class women were not treated very fairly. They normally wore fifth hand clothing; they (sometimes servants) ate the left over food of the higher class people.

It was very likely for unmarried women to be classified as a pauper. After having a father or a husband die, barely any money or land was left in the will to the daughter or wife; it was mostly given to the oldest son or another close male relative.

For the servants and wives, housework took a lot of physical energy. Some of the tools that they used were treadle sewing machines, mechanical wringers, and cast-iron stove. During the day wives that were their own house maids made clothes, cared for the sick, and grew and processed food that their family ate. Women did not only do this for their family, they prepared and sold food to others too. Also, they wove and repaired fishing nets.

Other jobs for the lower class women were barmaids, chambermaids, waitresses', and working in factories.

Working in factories was better than working in the domestic service business. The factory business allowed the women to socialize more and had fewer hours than the domestic service.


In 1858, there were about 7,194 prostitutes in London. The Victorian era was infamous for its prostitution. This may be due to the fact that some people believed that venereal diseases could be cured by sexual intercourse with children. This is why most prostitutes during this time were no other than children. A girl in the lower class, from ages 12 to 18, was paid 20 pounds; a girl in the middle class, of the same ages, was paid 100 pounds; and a girl of the upper class, 12 years old, was paid 400 pounds per job. This was way more money compared to a skilled worker of a normal job who only made about 62 pounds a year. Since prostitutes made a large sum of money, it was the number one reason that women became prostitutes. Another reason women went into prostitution was because other jobs for women were limited and didn't make nearly as much money. Prostitutes were more socially liberated than women in other classes. Prostitutes could also gather in pubs, meanwhile respected women could not.

Prostitution was not just good and lucrative, it was also very problematic. Although there were a number of prostitutes, there was still not enough to meet the demands. As a result, pimps, men who managed prostitutes, would go out and kidnap little girls to bring them into prostitution. Finally, there was the larger problem of venereal diseases.

A large majority of prostitutes had syphilis before they reached the age of 18. Soldiers and sailors in the army and navy were starting to get these diseases from the prostitutes which led to the Contagious Diseases Act. This law states as followed:

"Should a member of a special force or a registered doctor believe that a woman was a common prostitute (a term left undefined), then he might lay such information before a Justice of the Peace who was then to summon the woman to a certified hospital established under the act for medical examination. Should she refuse, then the magistrate could order her to be taken to the hospital and there forcibly examined and if found, in either case, to be suffering from venereal disease,

then she could be detained in a hospital for a period of up to three months. Resistance to examination or refusal to obey the hospital rules could be visited with one month’s imprisonment for the first offense and two months for any subsequent offense. They might, however, submit voluntarily to examination without a magistrate’s order, but if infected became liable for detention"

After this Act was enforced, women of this time formed the Ladies National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act. They tried to get the Contagious Diseases Acts repealed. Finally in 1886, these acts were repealed and were replaced with a new legislation. This legislation entitled the Criminal Law Amendment Act. These acts gave more protection to children from becoming prostitutes, made homosexuality a crime, and made the basis for prostitution to eventually become illegal.

Women Pregnancies

For women, child birth was their service to their husbands. Many wealthy families wanted children for heirs. These well to do couples would most likely keep reproducing until they had a male child. Also, the father would want a male child to give his land and money to. Many poor families wanted children for workers. These children could help work on the farm, family stores, or in the domestic service.

Even though children were good assistants, there was a downside. Woman pregnancy was very dangerous during the Victorian era. It was very common for women to pass away during childbearing. Another frightening asset was having a premature baby. The risk of death was more concerning to the lower class women. These women had poor diets that didn't have enough nutrition for a pregnant dame. On the other hand, for the wealthy it was a different situation. They had a more balanced diets, and this produced more healthy babies. Although rich women could afford more wine/beer, which they drank like water, was very dangerous for their infants. Women had to go through many lonely weeks, even months; incase of premature births, which was often,women had to go into confinement. Also having children gave women their rights. When a girl gave birth to their child they finally became a woman.

Women's Rights

In the early 1840's, women had very few rights. During this time period, women had to get an Act of Parliament* to get a divorce. But in 1857, the Matrimonial Causes Act allowed women to obtain a divorce without the Act of Parliament. This Act also allowed for women to keep the money that they earned from their job instead of having to give it to their former husband. When a married couple got divorced, the women were allowed to have custody of their children if she had the proper accommodations. The act that allowed this was the Custody of Infants Act, which was passed in 1839.

From 1840 to 1873, if a girl was finished with her studies and wanted to become further educated, she was not allowed to go to college. In 1874, the London School of Medicine for women was created. This allowed women, who wanted to further their studies in medicine, become doctors. Even though the London School of Medicine was a step up for women education, it wasn't until 1878 that they were allowed to go to a normal university. Before this, they were segregated from the males in education. The London University was the first to offer an equal education as men. This helped make women more successful.

Women were not granted the right to vote for Parliament. They wanted a say in their government. Sometimes, this law of women not being able to vote, would upset them and they would strike. This obviously didn't do much because all throughout the Victorian Era this law was not changed. The law for women to finally vote was passed in 1928.

*Parliment is a group of people who have supreme power within all land.

To play the game go to this site!!

The Victorian Era, which took place between the years 1837 and 1901, was filled with many wonders. One of these wonders was the women of its time. To sum it up, almost all women worked as housewives with the acceptation of domestic help and servants. Rarely there were womenwho did not stay at home, but traveled. Their individual days varied according to their role in society, such as upper, middle, and lower class. Some problems among women of that time regarded pregnancy and prostitution. During that time, although these women were strong, their legal rights were limited. Victorian Era women led very different lives than we do today.

* This page is a copy of the website which was co-created by me.

Work Cited Page

Abrams, Lynn. "Woman's mission." Ideals of Womenhood in Victorian Brittan. 9 August 2001. BBC. 22 February 2008.

Shumpus, Alexis. "Women and Travel." Women's Issues Then and Now. 18 May 2002. Rhetoric of Anglo-American Feminism. 28 February 2008.

Soulbur. "Prostitution in the Victorian Era(1830 - 1901) ." Prostitution in the Victorian Era. 13 November 2001. Everything2. 2 March 2008.

Thomas, Weston Pauline. "Social Differences Between Classes of Women."A Woman's Place in 19th Century Victorian History." 22 February 2008.

(Unknown author)."To the Life of the Victorian Woman." Victoria's Past. 3 January 2005. Victoria's Past. 28 February 2008.

(Unknown author) "Women of Victorian English." Women of Victorian England. Tripod. 2 March 2008.

Zablocki, Christine. "History of Prostitution in the Victorian Period." History of Prostitution in the Victorian Period. 25 February 2008.