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Protest and Punishment

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Gérard Delechelle

Modèles historiques

1894: English Women protest

The revolt of the Daughters and the New Woman

David Rubinstein

Texte intégral

1The 1890s witnessed the birth of the modern movement for the emancipation of middle and upper class English women. This was of course not the first time that middle class women hod demanded political, social or economic rights. Nor was it a successful movement, for by the end of the century it appeared to have lost momentum, only to spring to renewed and vigorous life early in the new century in the suffragette campaign.

  • 1 Lee Holcombe, Victorian Ladies at Work (Newton Abbot, 1973), pp. 203-17 and passim.

2The emancipation movement of the 1890s was the culmination of trends which had been gathering ground for several decades. The growth of business and government, bonking and finance, and the development of modern forms of communications created a demand for lower-middle class jobs, particularly in teaching, clerical work and the civil service. The result, as Lee Holcombe has shown, is that the numbers of women in these occupations rose steadily between 1861 and 1891, a rise whose pace was to quicken in the two subseuent decades.1 During the same period the educational opportunities of middle-class girls improved greatly, many high schools being founded or reformed and the first women's institutions of higher education making remarkable progress against heavy odds. The increased self-confidence b ought about by educational change and economic independence was an importantstimulus to the women's protest movement. The cynical exploitation of women professional workers, whose hours of drudgery were rewarded by inadequate salaries and poor conditions, probably did more to encourage the movement than to dampen its enthusiasm.

  • 2 Royal Commission on Population, P.P. 1949, vol. XIX, Cmd 7695, p. 14.
  • 3 Clara Collet, "Prospects of Marriage for Women", Nineteenth Century, vol. 31, April 1892, p. 540.

3The later nineteenth century witnessed a growing sex imbalance, the result of predominantly male emigration to the colonies and to the United States. In 1891 there were over 300,000 more women in their twenties than men2 and a calculation made by Clara Collet, a close student of women's economic and social problems, suggested that one woman in six would remain unmarried. In London the ratio was one in five and the position was particularly marked among the educated middle class3. This sex imbalance increased the exploitation of women in poorly paid jobs of all kinds, but. it also meant that many women unwilling or unable to become wives poured their energies into careers end into the movement for women's emancipation.

4The economic demand for the chear labour of educated women end the sex imbalance were important causes of the women's movement, which reinforced the pressures inherent in the continued growth and development of on industrial, urban society. The movement was fostered by other features of the times. There was a great deal of talk in the 1890s about the spirit of "fin de siècle", which flouted social conventions and feverishly searched for novelty. Mien and women seeking new fashions and forms of living were bound to make relations between the sexes an early target.

5The remarkable literary flowering of the 1890s gave a powerful fillip to the women's protest. The most influential figure was Henrik Ibsen, whose A Doll's House created a sensation when first publicly performed in London in 1889. It was followed by more plays by Ibsen and by writers like A.W. Pinero and H. A. Jones, and by the books of many novelists of both sexes. Although many topics were tackled the works shared a common theme; women's social oppression, their economic demands, their sexual needs. The school included major novelists like Thomas Hardy and George Gissing: its female members, highly influential in their own day, were almost forgotten until their reputations were revived in the 1870s.

  • 4 I have discussed this subject in "cycling in the 1890s". Victorian Studies, vol. 21, Autumn 1977, (...)

6Protest was also furthered by an apparently unlikely factor, the bicycle. Although various forms of cycle had been popular among men for some years and many women tricycled, it was not until the safety bicycle and the pneumatic tyre had been perfected in the later 1880s and mass produced in the early 1890s that popularity became a craze. The sense of freedom made possible by the bicycle was unprecedented and its importance difficult to exaggerate. Certainly it finds an affectionate place in most of the autobiographies of contemporary women, and there were frequent claims during the period of the cycling boom that it hod done more for women's emancipation than any other single factor.4

7It was in this context that daughters revolted and the New Women was born.

  • 5 B.A. Crackanthorpe,''The Revolt of the Daughters", Nineteenth Century, vol. 35, January 1894, pp. (...)

8In January 1894, Blanche Alathea Crackanthorpe, the wife of a barrister and the mother of a promising writer, published an article in the Nineteenth Century which quickly became a sensation. It was entitled: "The Revolt of the Daughters". "These are the days of strikes", Mrs. Crackanthorpe began, with a reference to a wave of industrial turmoil which had recently reached a climax in a violent miners' strike. The daughters' demands were presented as modest. They centred round the right of the unmarried girl to be considered as "an individual as well as a daughter". She should be able to make her own errors, travel freely, visit the music hall (with her brother!) and en.iov improved education. Boys were ungrudgingly prepared for a variety of professional careers, while girls were to enter a single profession - marriage. The daughter who asked for a fraction of the expenditure laid out on her brother and who was refused on the ground that a woman should remain in the narental home until called from it by a husband had real cause to protest against her lot. But the conventional thinking behind Mrs. Crackanthorpe's sunnort for the striking daughters was indicated by the reason which she gave for supporting professional training for women: "Marriage is the best profession for a woman; we all know and acknowledge it; but, for obvious reasons, all women cannot enter its strait and narrow gate." She also took the opportunity to denounce the "double standard" of sexual morality then generally accepted, which dictated that before marriage a wealthy man should keep a mistress or visit prostitutes, while a respectable girl saw no more of her lover's body before marriage than his hands and face5.

  • 6 B.A· Grackanthorpe, "A Lost Word on the Revolt", Nineteenth Century. vol. 35, March 1894, p. 424.
  • 7 E.B. Harrison, "Mothers and Daughters ", Nineteenth Century. February 1894, p. 317.

9The "hurricanes" and "thunderbolts " which, Mrs. Crackanthorpe wrote, followed the publication of her article,6 indicated the sympathy with which many renders viewed her case and the opposition felt by others to potentially dangerous changes in social and sexual behaviour. The Nineteenth Century itself printed a number of other articles on the same subject and the series was widely commented on and copied. Emily Harrison, the wife of the writer Frederic Harrison who was no friend of women's freedom, contributed a short story whose heroine told of friends whose parents had inhibited their efforts to paint, study history or (in the absence of an escort) attend economics classes. One mother had given her daughter a novel but had carefully censored a section with a carefully placed bonnet pin.7

  • 8 Β.A. Crackanthorpe, on. cit. (note), p. 425-7.

10Mrs. Crackanthorpe contributed a second article attacking the "matrimonial hunt", the target of which was the capture of a husband in a girl's own social class or above it, and pointed out that mothers had themselves contributed to the new ferment by working in a variety of "good causes" unknown to earlier generations. These included "slumming in the East" (social work with the poor in the East End of London), membership of School Boards or Boards of Poor Law Guardians, running clubs for working girls, taking part in organising women's trade unions and similar activities.8 (Incidentally she, like other educated writers of the time, liberally sprinkled her articles with French phrases: ce n'est que le premier pas nui coûte: autres temps autres moeurs: pour tout potage, and so on.)

  • 9 Alys Pearsall Smith, "A Reply from the Daughters ", Nineteenth Century, March 1894, pp. 447, 450.
  • 10 Kathleen Cuffe, "A Reply from the Diughters", Nineteenth Century, March 1894, pp. 439-42.

11Two of the daughters were given an opportunity to speak for themselves. The American Alys Pearsall Smith, soon to marry the mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, claimed the right of a daughter to "belong to herself"in terras which pointed to the influence of Ibsen.9 It was left to Kathleen Cuffe, daughter of the Earl and Countess of Dysart, to "speak in the name of the average more or less unemployed, tea-drinking, lawn-tennis playing, ball-going damsel" of tho upper and upper-middle glass. Lady Kathleen mentioned some common symbols of the revolt, such as the musi c hell end possession of a latchkey. But her principal demand was the abolition of the chaperon in all normal circumstances. Unmarried women of her class could not visit a friend two or three streets away, walk in the park, ettend a tea party, play or concert, or even church unaccompanied, although a young married sister could freely do all of these things. Social work was out of the euestion, for "who hes ever heerd of enyone 'slumming' under the protecting care of a cheperon?… Perhaps", she concluded wistfully, "we may even see the day when a cheperon will he es little known es e great auk or other creature of a past era."10

  • 11 Gertrude Hemery, "The Revolt of the Laughters. An Answer - by One of Them", Westminster Review, vo (...)

12Of the erticles stimulated by the Nineteenth Century's series one need mention only a short rejoinder which appeared in the Westminster Review. The euthor, Gertrude Hemery, ennounced that et tne age of 18 she hed her own latchkey and was never cheperoned. Purity, she commented, was the result of knowledge rather than ignorance, a belief she intended to put into practice if she became a mother, bringing up sons and daughters without differentiation on grounds of sex.11

  • 12 The writer Robert Buchanan, for example, made three references to New Womanhood in a letter in the (...)

13By this time the revolting daughter was giving way to the more enduring phenomenon of the New Woman, a ten often used by modern writers without reference to its origin. In early 1894 the demands of educated women had reached such a pitch that it was fairly common to write in terms of a "new" womanhood.12 However, the creation of the New Woman as a heroine or bogey figure was the result of an interchange between two prominent women writers in the pages of the North American Review.

  • 13 The first published biography of Sarah Grand, Gillian Kersley's Darling Madame, was published in 1 (...)

14The first of these writers was Sarah Grand, as Frances Elizabeth Bellenden Clarke (1854-1943) called herself, apparently oblivious of the fact that another woman using the same name had achieved some notoriety before her marriage to Talleyrand. She struggled as a writer after leavi.np her dissolute husband in 1890, but with the publication of The Heavenly Twins in 1893 she achieved a literary sensation and sudden fame. The book dealt with marriages of convenience and ignorance and with venereal disease and its cotise uences, making a powerful plea to end the double moral standard. Sarah Grand wrote other works of fiction, none of which achieved the success of the earlier book, but she had a long and varied life nnd in the 1890s in particular she was lionised, interviewed and regarded as a principal feminist authority on relations between the sexes.13

  • 14 Ouida, Views and Opinions (London, 1895), pp. 319, 324. None of the published biographies of Ouida (...)

15The second author was 'Cuida', the pen name of Louise Ramé (1839-1908). She was a romantic novelist of an older generation, whose best-known book, Under Two Flams, had been published as long-before as 1867. She now made her home in Italy and her living by writing articles on a variety of topics, among vthich was a virulent anti-feminism which sought to convict women of being a "drag on the wheel of the higher aspirations" of men, and possessing "a sleeping potentiality for crime" and "a curious possibility of fiendish evil".14

  • 15 Sarah Grand, "The New Aspect of the Woman Question", North American Review, vol. 158, March 1894, (...)

16In an article in the North Ameri can Review in March 1894 entitled "The New Aspect of the Woman Question", Sarah Grand asserted that men understood traditional types of women, whom she referred to as "the cow-woman" and "the scum-woman". But, she added, "the new woman is a little above him". This was the woman who would have to hold out her hand to man and to educate him out of his moral infancy.15

17In good journalistic fashion Ouida saw her opportunity. Her article "The New Woman" took up the term perhaps carelessly used by Sarah Grand and created a new species. Like Mrs. Crackanthorpe she coupled the rise of the women's movement with the rise of labour, insisting that both were "unmitigated bores":

"The Workingman and the Woman, the New Woman, be it remembered, meet us at every nage of literature written in the English tongue: and each is convinced that on his own especial W hangs the future of the world."

18This was a perceptive if bad-tempered sentence, for the history of the twentieth century in every industrial society has in fact largely been written in terms of these two Ws.

  • 16 Ouida, "The Hew Woman", North American Review, vol. 158, May 1894, pp. 610-19 An article in the co (...)

19Ouida went on to attack the hew Woman's alleged lack of humour, her preference for public life, sport and study of medicine to her proper vocation as wife and mother. She compared the Hew Woman to a firmer who coveted his neighbour's field instead of tilling his own: "The Hew Woman will not even look at the extent of ground indisputably her own, which she leaves unweeded and untilled."16

20As soon as the May number of the North American Review reached Britain (the British Museum's copy is dated 11 May 1894) the New Woman became a stock phrase of every journalist and commentator, The Times augustly disregarded the phenomenon, but it made its first appearance in the Daily Telegraph on 12 May, in the Daily Chronicle on the 14th and the Mall Mall Gazette on the 16th. Once lunch took hold of the topic on 26th May it refused to let it go; as late as 10 January 1900 it asked whether the New Woman was living or dead.

21The New Woman was largely the creation of the press, but it was a creation easily recognised in the fiction and the social life of the period. The critic Edmund Gosse wrote testily in 1895:

  • 17 Edmund Gosse, "The Decay of Literary Taste", North American keview, vol·161, July 1895, pp. 116-17

"Things have come to a pretty pass when the combined prestige of the best poets, historians, critics and philosophers of the country does not weigh in the balance against a single novel by the New Woman…An intelligent foreigner, I suppose, visiting our country in this year of grace, would be more struck with the ebullition of chatter about the New Woman than with anything else."17

A Study in Backs

A Study in Backs

Lady's Realm March 1900, p. 643

22Dora Montefiore, a socialist and feminist, was one of the few emancipated women ready to accent the title, for the tern, she pointed out, had been invented by its enemies. She encansulated many of the views of advanced women of the period in a poem entitled "The Rev; Woman":

  • 18 Dora B. Montefiore, "The New Woman", "Singings Through the Dark": Poems (London, 1898), p. 62.

"She is pondering social problems
Which appeal to heart and brain.
She is daring for the first time
Both to think - and then to act…
Centuries she followed blindfold
Where her lord and master led
Lived his faith, embraced his morals;
Trod but where he bade her tread."18

23Women's movements in England have always had to face the weapon of ridicule. Both men and women have disguised their apprehension and fear by professing to find amusing the prospect of women challenging the existing pattern of relations between the sexes. A period in which women outnumbered men was thought particularly appropriate to characterise the New Woman as manlike, dowdy, flighty, incompetent and so on. Punch's first comment was typical:

  • 19 Punch, 26 Hay 1894, p. 252. Punch was so pleased with this verse (or so short of copy) that it vir (...)

"There is a New Woman, and what do you think?
She lives upon nothing but Foolscap and Ink!
But, though Foolscap and Ink form the whole of her diet,
This nagging New Woman can never be quiet!"19

24As the journalist Hulda Friederichs asked:

  • 20 Hulda Friederichs, "The 'Old' woman and the 'New' " Young Woman. vol. 3, March 1895, p. 203.

"Is there in all this world a creature that has been slandered like her? Slandered, ridiculed, calumniated, scorned, mocked, caricatured, and abused, till you can hurl no more insulting epithet at any girl or woman than to call her a Mew Woman."20

  • 21 Walter Farke, "Now Mrs. Newman Became a New Woman" Atalanta. vol. 9, January 1896, p. 250.

25Yet the New Woman like the revolting daughter was much more than the creature and the victim of press and fiction. The mid-1890s were marked by a revolt symbolised, not created, by the New woman. The demand for the parliamentary vote, now nearly a generation old, could easily he contained by flinnancy or obstruction in the House of Commons. The employment of middle-class women, though it caused some concern to the conservative, was as useful to employers seeking cheap, docile labour as it was essential to women themselves. But social and sexual revolt was another mattez; it threatened, like the later women's liberation movement, to overthrow established institutions of male supremacy. Many real husbands, like a fictional one in a short story of 1896, must have felt that their wives had suddenly jumped "to the middle of the twentieth century!"21

  • 22 Marie C. Pointon discusses these and related subjects in her Manchester University H. Ed. thesis " (...)

26Women refused to accent the previous image of the nselves as weak and incapable of physical exertion. This was true not only of cycling but of many other forms of snort and recreation, including hockey and golf.22 Some courageous women, especially cyclists, adopted "rational dress", a kind of knickerbocker outfit which was a shocking, though commonsensical alternative to long, trailing skirts.

  • 23 "Should Ladies Smoke?", Lady's Realm. February 1900, pp. 513-18.
  • 24 Daily Tel egraph, 1 May 1894.

27Increasing numbers of women took un smokinp, a curious but nonetheless potent symbol of emancipation.23 An amusing case was reported to the Daily Telegraph by a man whose railway carriage was invaded by four young women, one whom produced a "smoking" label which she fixed to a window. His protests were met by the reply that the smoke would be good for him.24

  • 25 Young Woman, vol. 6, April 1898, pr. 253-4.
  • 26 E.J. Hardy, Love, Courtship and Marriage (London, 1902), p. 91.

28The requirement of the wedding service that brides should·promise to obey their husbands was questioned by hold spirits. The Young Woman stage a correspondence entitled "Should Brides Promise to Obey?", and though they disappointingly refrained from publishing an analysis of replies, the fact that hundreds of them were received made clear that the subject raised strong feelings.25 A clergyman reported that some brides, unwilling to say 'obey', promised to 'love, honour and go gay', words with an amusingly changed connotation to a later generation.26 When married some women insisted on keeping their own first names, being known as 'Mrs. Arabella Smith' rather than 'Mrs. John Smith' as convention dictated.

PAST AND PRESENT. "No, thanks; I never smoke before ladies!"

29Objection was voiced to a woman's marital status being public property, a remarkable foreshadowing of the later use of the abbreviation 'Ms' and an even closer approximation to French practice. The journalist Ella Day wanted the tern 'Miss' to be reserved for the young; women should be known as 'Mrs.' regardless of whether or not they were married. She asked:

  • 27 Ella Day, "Letters to the Harassed", Young Woman, vol. 5, May 1897, p. 313.

"Why should a woman be, as it were, branded on the forehead? Why should her luggage, when she travels, proclaim her domestic condition to every railway porter? Why should the announcement of her name at a public dinner or a reception indicate to every ear that she is somebody's property, or is still available for somebody else?"27

30This type of striving for emancipation, thourh indicative of widespread feeling, had little chance of triumphing over the overwhelming pressures of convention and respectable opinion of the day. But the movement, amorphous and leaderless as it was, raised issues which were not forgotten. Each Feneration builds on the shoulders of its predecessor, and the determination and single-mindedness of the suffragette movement owed at least an indirect debt to the courageous and forgotten women who had raised much wider issues in the previous decade.

Notes

1 Lee Holcombe, Victorian Ladies at Work (Newton Abbot, 1973), pp. 203-17 and passim.

2 Royal Commission on Population, P.P. 1949, vol. XIX, Cmd 7695, p. 14.

3 Clara Collet, "Prospects of Marriage for Women", Nineteenth Century, vol. 31, April 1892, p. 540.

4 I have discussed this subject in "cycling in the 1890s". Victorian Studies, vol. 21, Autumn 1977, pp. 47-71.

5 B.A. Crackanthorpe,''The Revolt of the Daughters", Nineteenth Century, vol. 35, January 1894, pp. 23-31. I have drown the reference to a lover's hands and face from a similar comment made by Vera Brittain in Testament of Youth (London, 1933), p.166.

6 B.A· Grackanthorpe, "A Lost Word on the Revolt", Nineteenth Century. vol. 35, March 1894, p. 424.

7 E.B. Harrison, "Mothers and Daughters ", Nineteenth Century. February 1894, p. 317.

8 Β.A. Crackanthorpe, on. cit. (note), p. 425-7.

9 Alys Pearsall Smith, "A Reply from the Daughters ", Nineteenth Century, March 1894, pp. 447, 450.

10 Kathleen Cuffe, "A Reply from the Diughters", Nineteenth Century, March 1894, pp. 439-42.

11 Gertrude Hemery, "The Revolt of the Laughters. An Answer - by One of Them", Westminster Review, vol. 141, June 1804, pp. 679-81.

12 The writer Robert Buchanan, for example, made three references to New Womanhood in a letter in the Daily Chronicle on 15 January 1894.

13 The first published biography of Sarah Grand, Gillian Kersley's Darling Madame, was published in 1983.

14 Ouida, Views and Opinions (London, 1895), pp. 319, 324. None of the published biographies of Ouida is of assistance in discussing the New Roman controversy.

15 Sarah Grand, "The New Aspect of the Woman Question", North American Review, vol. 158, March 1894, pp. 271-3.

16 Ouida, "The Hew Woman", North American Review, vol. 158, May 1894, pp. 610-19 An article in the comic paner Judy for 18 April 1894 (p. 186.) discusses the New Woman. I have found no other which predates Ouida's.

17 Edmund Gosse, "The Decay of Literary Taste", North American keview, vol·161, July 1895, pp. 116-17.

18 Dora B. Montefiore, "The New Woman", "Singings Through the Dark": Poems (London, 1898), p. 62.

19 Punch, 26 Hay 1894, p. 252. Punch was so pleased with this verse (or so short of copy) that it virtually repeated it on 21 September 1895, p. 136.

20 Hulda Friederichs, "The 'Old' woman and the 'New' " Young Woman. vol. 3, March 1895, p. 203.

21 Walter Farke, "Now Mrs. Newman Became a New Woman" Atalanta. vol. 9, January 1896, p. 250.

22 Marie C. Pointon discusses these and related subjects in her Manchester University H. Ed. thesis "The Growth of Women's Sport in Late Victorian Society as Reflected in Contemporary Literature" (1978).

23 "Should Ladies Smoke?", Lady's Realm. February 1900, pp. 513-18.

24 Daily Tel egraph, 1 May 1894.

25 Young Woman, vol. 6, April 1898, pr. 253-4.

26 E.J. Hardy, Love, Courtship and Marriage (London, 1902), p. 91.

27 Ella Day, "Letters to the Harassed", Young Woman, vol. 5, May 1897, p. 313.

Table des illustrations

Titre A Study in Backs
Légende Lady's Realm March 1900, p. 643
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4403/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 142k
Légende PAST AND PRESENT
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4403/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 471k
Légende PAST AND PRESENT. "No, thanks; I never smoke before ladies!"
URL http://books.openedition.org/pufr/docannexe/image/4403/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 335k

Auteur

Université de Tours

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 1984

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