Women have long had to fight hard for equal rights and to be afforded the same opportunities as their male counterparts. Whilst the battle is still not over, women now enjoy many more freedoms than they previously have, and much of what we have now can be attributed to the efforts of women 200+ years ago.
The Victorians are credited with many of the greatest advances in society; after all, they are behind some of the most essential inventions such as telephones, flushing toilets and electric lightbulbs. Aside from these world-changing items, the Victorians made great societal strides. In England, the Victorians birthed the police force, but it was the rights of women that began advancing as the era came to an end, thanks to the efforts of women and their bravery in standing up to the patriarchy.
We can all learn a lot from Victorian women. If you’re wondering just what these women went through, here is what life was typically like for a woman 200+ years ago and how things have progressed.
For the longest time, women were seen as the weaker sex and could not undertake any career they pleased. On paper, the view was that women should not work at all as men were the breadwinners, but in practice, many lower-class women had to work in order to make ends meet. In fact, some industries relied on women entirely, such as the textile industry.
Despite working long, arduous hours, the wages were dismal, and what women did earn was automatically passed onto their husbands. This meant women could work for 12 hours a day, six days a week and would not see a penny of it. What’s more, if their husbands left them, they would often be left with nothing. This forced many women into a life of petty crime, for which they were harshly punished in Victorian prisons in areas like London where disease and poor sanitation was rife.
Nowadays, women can work is any industry they want. Whilst women are still underrepresented in some departments, their career options are far more open that they previously have been. Women are much more than seamstresses and maids these days, and what they earn is theirs.
It was very much the case in the Victorian era that women were the property of men and nothing more, hence why their wages and their possessions automatically belonged to their husbands. In fact, a woman’s reputation was entirely dependent on men. A man had to power to tarnish a woman and make her ‘undesirable’, and abusive husbands had complete control as women couldn’t leave them.
That was, at least, until 1857 when, after much protest, the courts granted women the opportunity to divorce their husbands. Divorce was frowned upon, but it gave women in abusive marriages hope of a way out.
Women did not get the right to vote in the same capacity as men until 1928 in the UK, with the Suffragettes largely being credited with much of campaigning. Whilst the Suffragettes played a huge role, much of the leg work started in the Victorian era. After women were allowed to divorce their husbands, they were granted the right to keep hold of their wages and their possessions in 1882. Many independent groups campaigned for the right to vote and attempted to recruit men of influence to support their cause.
Eventually, in 1928, their wishes were granted. There was much resistance these women had to overcome, with the general view being that women were not smart enough to be involved with politics and could not feasibly understand such important matters, let alone cast a vote on them. This view was repeatedly challenged and women now enjoy the right to express themselves politically, and there are even women in positions of power all around the world, something that women 200 years ago could only dream of.
Women have certainly had a long struggle to get to where they are today, and the battle is far from over, but if the women of 200 years ago have taught us anything, it’s that perseverance can bring around rapid change, and that women are much stronger than most think.