Source : http://nayelialejandra13.weebly.com/the-victorian-era.html
In order to better contextualise my work, I wanted to explore both the Victorian Era and the Gender Equality of this period. By doing so I hope that the world that William Morris lived in will be more comprehensible and therefore I can gain a further understanding of his work.
The Victorian Era was the period in history when everything was evolving. Just after the Industrial Revolution, Urbanisation was occurring all over Britain and populations of towns and cities rose higher than it had done before. This was a period of change. The main themes of this century was “Protestant Work Ethic, Family Values, Religious Observation, and Institutional Faith.”
A Victorian Cotton Mill
Source : http://primaryfacts.com/1683/victorian-factories-and-the-machines-of-industry-facts-and-information/
Child Labour in factories and textile mills
The era started with a feeling of positivity and optimism that soon came under seize by a doubt about Britain’s place in the world. Saying this Britain were still superior at sea and this remained unchallenged, they opened up paths to Africa and West Asia. However they were still troubled by the current situation in Ireland and the failure at the Boer War.
Within Britain, people were started to travel more due to the birth of the national rail allowing people to take holidays and day trips. Families in Britain were large and adopted many values such as hard work and social deference.
Victorian Seaside Holidays
Source : http://cookit.e2bn.org/historycookbook/23-117-victorians-Health-facts.html
Politics were also very present in this period. Queen Victoria was the reigning queen but the country was lead by a representative government. This era did see the growth and emergence of many political movements including socialism, liberalism and feminism.
Source : http://www.english.uwosh.edu/roth/VictorianEngland.htm
Source: Overview of the Victorian Era, A. Shepherd
Victorian Gender Equality
In the Victorian Era the roles of men and women were very different. In early centuries, women would work in the family business looking after the shop or the accounts whilst alongside having duties in the house. As Urbanisation evolved as a ripple effect of the Industrial Revolution, men started to commute to work in the bigger cities, this left the women at home with no other job to do but domestic ones or oversee the domestic jobs being done.
Women’s role was at the home because they were seen as physically weaker but morally stronger and could bring up children therefore suited to what was called the “domestic sphere”. Their husbands were more suited to the “public sphere” in which they worked. Because of women’s role in the home they were seen as having no need to vote.
The Ladies Home Journal – January 1896 – Victorian women having at home with child – Albert Lynch
Women were not immersed completely in education, even if they were very intellectual. Their education came in a different form know as accomplishments. These ranged from knowledge of music to modern languages and drawing. They were seen as making the women more eligible for marriage. These accomplishments would be taught at boarding school or by a governess. We can see an example of this in The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde in which Cecily is taught by her governess Miss Prism. By learning such skills a women was more graceful and feminine. Blue Stockings were women who were more intellectual and were frowned upon in society. Being too intelligent was said to have a “damaging effect on the ovaries” and turned “young women into prune”. They were therefore unmarriageable.
Whilst being eligible was very much in the centre of womens lives, for men this was not necessarily the case. The goal of marriage for women was to become a mother not to pursue sexual feelings. Usually the man would be five years older than the woman, he had to show he was financially stale and get permission from the father. Men did not however have to hide their sexual appetite. Many men used prostitutes and all cities had a red light district . There was therefore a rise in sexually transmitted diseases which could in an eventuality be passed on to the future wife who could die from them. Syphilis being the main disease. Women could not however have sex before marriage and we not even allowed to speak to men when unaccompanied by a chaperone. Having no higher education or professional work meant woman would be easily frustrated.
As we can see from my research above William Morris lived in a society where women were below men. This meant that although Morris did not necessarily agree with the way that the society worked, he did not want to be different which is why he told women to support their socialist husbands, not necessarily practice socialism themselves although he did advice and explain socialism to a lot of women clients.
Source : Gender Roles in the 19th Century, K.Hughes, British Museum