The Fairer Sex: The Victorian Era

As of April 17th, 2019 I would encourage you to read this post.

Welcome to week four of our nine week series. We are just about half way through this series. Before we launch into our topic for this week, I want to say that I have learned a lot during this journey. This has provided me the opportunity to study about different cultures and societies. I also hope, Reader, that perhaps this series is changing your life for the better. Now on to our topic.

This week we are discussing the Victorian era of England. The Victorian era took place from the years 1837-1901. Queen Victoria is the reigning monarch on the British throne, it is a time of peace, Pax Britannica (British Peace), prosperity, etiquette and a strong sense of morality.

The role of women has risen since the Medieval era. Women could now go and get jobs so long as it didn’t interfere with their domestic duties, higher education (education at all) was becoming more and more available.

The Victorian era was also a time in which gender roles were being even more sharply defined than at any other point in history. Below is a chart of some of the qualities that were expected of both men and women.

MEN                                          WOMEN



Active Passive
Brave Timid
Worldly Domestic
Logical Illogical
Rational Emotional, susceptible to madness, hysteria
Individual Social/Familial
Independent Dependent
Able to resist temptation Unable to resist temptation
Tainted Pure
Ambitious Content
Sexual/Sensual Not sexual/sensual
Sphere: Public Sphere: Private

At this point in history, more and more workers commuted to their workplace. A shopkeeper, for example, might not necessarily live above his shop anymore and leaves early in the morning to open his store. Or the factory workers would walk from their homes to the factory and back. So whereas women used to help more in the shop it was less so now since it wasn’t directly connected to the home.

For any woman, rich or poor it was expected for a woman to marry and have children. But of course in order to do that one must find a husband. Pre-marital sex in that day in age was scandalous and absolutely unacceptable. However, the woman had be subtle in her search for a husband. A woman was expected to little no sexual feelings, only to have sex so she might be able to bear children and please her husband. If she was obvious with her intent for a husband, then company might think her to have a ravenous sexual appetite. A Victorian doctor named William Acton famously once stated this:

“The majority of women (happily for them) are not very much troubled with sexual feeling of any kind…As a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself. She submits to her husband’s embraces, but principally to gratify him; and, were it not for the desire of maternity, would far rather be relieved from his attentions.”

Further on the subject, sex was a obscure mysterious subject. The term “unmentionables” as another name for undergarments comes from this era, arms and legs were called limbs, there is even a myth that Victorians would cover furniture legs because they were supposedly suggestive. Most women didn’t even learn about sex until their wedding night (talk about an awkward time to get a sex ed lesson.)

In this time women were becoming literate and educated. However women were not taught sciences and high level math. Here is a quote from Pride and Prejudice which gives us an idea of what a middle class and higher class woman was taught:

A woman must have thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing and the modern languages…and beside all this she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expression. – Ch. 8

In the 1840’s two college’s were opened. The first was Queen’s College which was founded by men who were sympathetic to the need of better educating women and second was the Ladies College which would later be known as Bedford College, this college was founded and run by women. However women who were devoted to intellectual pursuits were given the unkind name of Blue-stocking. Doctors actually claimed that if a woman studied too much it would damage her ovaries and turn her into a prune, this would make her unmarriable. Crazy huh?

In conclusion, this is a new age for women. Women are being treated less like second-rate citizens and more equally. Women are more literate and educated than at any other point in time at that point and even although there were many professions that shut women out, this was a building block to the next step.

Next week we will talk about a very important woman: Susan B. Anthony the woman who fought to vote.

Read More and Citations


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