Victorian Era is the time span between 1837 and 1901. In the history of England, this period was Queen Victoria’s reign. The life of a Victorian woman was restricted to the household. She was deemed fit for the household chores.
An ideal Victorian woman was supposed to take care of the family and devote time to tasks like cooking, washing, give birth to children and taking care of the young ones. A woman was considered to be a family claim and the family’s possession.
Let’s categorically understand the plight and position of Victorian Women.
The Family Claim
Women were regarded as subordinate to men. Before marriage father and after marriage husband was supposed to take care of them. Women were considered to be men’s property.
Men were supposed to take care and guard them financially and economically.
Women relegated to perform strenuous homework and physical labour
During this age, women were expected to perform physical work and hard labour. Women were confined to home and household work. Whether or not a woman got married, she was supposed to take care of home and family members. Her role was that of a caretaker.
Household work required a lot of physical effort. Women did everything from washing the clothes and dishes to processing and cooking what the family ate.
Women’s Machines and labour-saving devices included the sewing machine, the mechanical wringer ( for washing clothes) and the stove, made up of wrought-iron on which she cooked meals, every day.
Women made for good nurses and maids
Women took care of the old and the sick. There were many common diseases prevalent in society. The major killer was heart disease. Women were also employed as maids by women of rich households. But most of the women had to do typical household chores.
Fashion was high on the list
Fashion was an important vocation and Victorian Women were considered to be very fashionable.
Starting from their dresses, to their accessories which comprised of hats, hand-fans, handkerchiefs and embroidered and laced stockings, everything was fashionable and dainty.
Women were supposed to be good, only as birth-givers
It was considered that women were born and existed because they are supposed to give birth and keep the generations flowing. They were considered to be the caretaker of posterity and child bearer for the human race to continue and exist.
Birth control and contraception were taken as a taboo. In fact, there were many victoria men who took abortion as a crime and big offence.
Also, the haphazard and imperfect nature of birth control methods affected the lives of the women adversely. There was no sure-shot method of birth control and there was always a risk of women getting pregnant. Most of the couples tried abstinence and indulged in sexual intercourse during the so-called safe period, which was also misinterpreted and resulted in unwanted pregnancy bringing more agony and pain to the women.
Women started to get economically independent
Slowly and steadily, Victorian women and housewives started to work in agricultural fields and industries because of the growing technological advancements and industrial revolution in the late nineteenth century.
This was a major breakthrough from the traditional and conventional life. In fact, women were earlier supposed to be the objects of men. By the early Twentieth Century, they started to break away from the shackles of male autonomy and rule.
Another Major Occupation was Prostitution
For women, who wanted quick and easy money, prostitution was a common occupation.
In fact, a woman who did hard labour earned only twenty per cent of what a woman could earn through prostitution. Many Chinese women were brought to England, during the Victorian age to work as slaves and prostitutes.
Gradually, things began to change for women. The feminist movement and the wave of feminism opened new doors and avenues for women. Feminist literature by women writers who either used pseudonyms gained popularity.
In fact, one of the most popular Victorian Novels is Pride and Prejudice which gives ample information about the lives of Victorian women.
All said and done, slowly they started liberating and move towards women emancipation and freedom.
Victorian housewife guide – See The Victorian housewife manual in PDF format