Adventures among the Poor

Ellen Ross

in Slum Travelers

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2007 | ISBN: 9780520249059
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520940055 | DOI:
Adventures among the Poor

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  • Modern History (1700 to 1945)


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Two generations before World War I, the poor urban districts of Britain had exerted a magnetic pull on middle- and upper-class women. Thousands of those who belonged to the upper strata forsook activities that marked their wealth and dedicated their time instead to visiting slums and to activities that would further the betterment of this often marginalized and ignored population. According to an estimate from the mid-1980s, around half a million women in England were involved in philanthropy. This book presents some of the well-born women's narratives of their encounters with poverty and the poor in London. These narratives focus on the domestic sphere and the lives of women and children. A number of them represent the process of observing, or investigating poverty in itself: knocking on doors, alighting from a tram in a strange district, or simply looking out a window at the street life outdoors. The selections in this book range over a fifty-year period and offer several genres: policy-oriented social observation, journalism, art, fiction, and poetry. These narratives are not intended to offer a consistent and comprehensive portrait of London's inhabitants, or of those who observed them. The narratives also do not include many elements of working-class life such as male workplaces, sports, crime, and electoral politics. However, because of the detail the writers here include and the diversity of voices they offer, these narratives offer a crash course in social history, particularly charity, family life, health care, childhood, and women's work. This book is also a contribution to the recovery of lost and hidden women writers. To rediscover these women as writers and activists is to redraw the gender map of Victorian and Edwardian London.

Keywords: poor urban districts; women; philanthropy; poverty; working-class life; charity; family life; health care; childhood; women's work

Chapter.  16962 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Modern History (1700 to 1945)

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