How did feminism in England, between the mid 19th and early 20th century, help bring about social, political, and economic changes for middle and lower class women?



Woman is an evil, stupid animal unless she is educated and civilized to a high degree…Only the woman of the world is a woman; the rest are females…As regards the inferiority of the female mind, consider the self-assurance of a woman…which allows her to be extremely witty with nothing but a little vivacity and a touch of spontaneity…Men like ourselves, need a woman of little breeding and education.

SOURCE:  The Goncourt Brothers, On Female Inferiority, 1855.



Man for the field and woman for the hearth:
Man for the sword and for the needle she:
Man with the head and woman with the heart:
Man to command and woman to obey;
All else confusion.

SOURCE:  Alfred Lord Tennyson, The Princess.



SOURCE:  John Tenniel, Punch Magazine, 3rd. August, 1867.



It is thus that the sentiment for woman has undergone a change…it is by intrinsic qualities that she must now inspire respect…Domestic life is the chief source of her influence …And in her endeavors to make those around her happy, she will be esteemed and loved…Nothing is so likely to conciliate the affections of the other sex as a feeling that woman looks to them for support and guidance. In proportion as men are themselves superior, they are accessible to this appeal…There is, indeed, something unfeminine in independence…A really sensible woman feels her dependence…She knows she is the weaker vessel...In this view, her weakness in an attraction, not a blemish. In every thing, therefore, that women attempt, they should show their consciousness of dependence.

SOURCE: Elizabeth Poole Sanford, Woman in Her Social and Domestic Character, late 19th century.



Nora: Tomorrow I shall go home-I mean, to my old home. It will be easiest for me to find something to do there.
Torvald: You blind, foolish woman!
Nora: I must try and get some sense, Torvald.
Torvald: To desert your home, your husband and your children! And you don't consider what people will say!
Nora: I cannot consider that at all. I only know that it is necessary for me.
Torvald: It's shocking. This is how you would neglect your most sacred duties.
Nora: What do you consider my most sacred duties?
Torvald: Do I need to tell you that? Are they not your duties to your husband and your children?
Nora: I have other duties just as sacred.
Torvald: That you have not. What duties could those be?
Nora: Duties to myself.
Torvald: Before all else, you are a wife and mother.
Nora: I don't believe that any longer. I believe that before all else I am a reasonable human being, just as you are.

SOURCE:  Henrik Ibsen, A Doll's House, 1879.



I know that in your minds there are questions like these; you are saying, "Women Suffrage is sure to come…and how is it that some women…are using violence…to attain their end?"…Let me try to explain to you the situation…during the '80's, women, like men, were asking for the franchise…More meetings were held, and larger, for Woman Suffrage than were held for votes for men, and yet women did not get it. Men got it because they were and would be violent…I want to say here and now that the only justification for violence… for damage to property… for risk to the comfort of other human beings is the fact that you have tried all other available means and have failed to secure justice… from the moment we began our militant agitation to this day I have felt absolutely guiltless…I tell you that in Great Britain there is no other way…

SOURCE:  Emmeline Pankhurst, Why We Are Militant, 1913.



The primordial argument against giving woman the vote is that that vote would not represent physical force. Now it is by physical force alone…that a nation protects itself…upholds its rule over subject populations, and enforces its own laws. And nothing could in the end more certainly lead to war and revolt than the decline of the military spirit and loss of prestige which would inevitably follow if man admitted woman into political co-partnership…

SOURCE:  Sir Almroth E. Wright, The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage, 1913.



     Percentage of Women to Men in Employment in Great Britain

Industry %

Transport %

Agriculture %

Commerce %

All Workers %

July, 1914






July, 1918






July, 1920








We little thought when we first put on our overalls and caps and enlisted in the Munition Army how much more inspiring our life was to be than we had dared to hope…As we handle the weapons of war we are learning great lessons of life…The day is long…Our hands are black with warm, thick oozings from the machines…We regard our horrible begrimed members (limbs) with disgust and secret pride…The genteel among us wear gloves…The work is hard…Engineering mankind is possessed of the unshakable opinion that no woman can have the mechanical sense…Women have, however, proved that their entry into the munition world has increased the output.




 All those who were certain that women would be completely successful substitutes for men were painfully disappointed to discover that women who had worked for years in a firm…suddenly handed in their resignations…Here was…proof that women are incapable of holding down responsible positions…the boss made it clear that one of the gentleman would carefully explain the new assignments to them…on the first day…male colleagues looked askance at the "intruder" who dared usurp the position…all the lady's questions were answered quite vaguely…we must, however, admit that occasionally the fault does lie with the lady, who simply did not have sufficient preparation to fill a difficult position…Therefore…all you women who want to advance yourselves…use this time of war as a learning experience and keep your eyes open.

SOURCE:  Magda Trott, Opposition To Female Employment, early 20th century.



 I have seen great days, but this is the greatest…I never believed that equal votes would come in my lifetime. But when an impossible dream comes true, we must go on to another. The true unity of men and women is one such dream. The end of war, of famine-they are all impossible dreams, but the dream must be dreamed…

SOURCE:  Charlotte Despard, from a speech given at a meeting of the Women's Freedom League, on the right of women over thirty obtaining the vote, 1919.



Personally, holding as I do the enfranchisement of Women involved greater issues than could be involved in any war…I cannot help regretting that any justification was given for the popular error which still sometimes ascribes the victory of the suffrage cause, in 1918, to women's war service.

SOURCE:  Evelyn Sharp, Unfinished Adventure, 1933.


DBQ Question created by::

Christina Coppola
Class of 2002
Maria Regina H. S.
Hartsdale, NY  10530