Megan Smitley

in The Feminine Public Sphere

Published by Manchester University Press

Published in print November 2009 | ISBN: 9780719079665
Published online July 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781781703069 | DOI:

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The study highlights the feminine public sphere that represents a locus of middle-class women's public lives and elite women's contribution to a middle-class identity rooted in public service. Notions of women's complementary nature, feminine moral superiority and an evangelical interest in actively pursuing the conversion of others—ideas which might have been mobilised to justify the sexual division of labour and an idealised female domesticity—could have been subverted by middle-class public women to encourage the formation and expansion of women's reforming associations in the 1870 to 1914 period. Furthermore, a belief in the social and moral importance of the maternal and domestic was integral to middle-class women's culture, and the women's temperance movement illustrates the importance of gender and social class to the feminine public sphere. Female temperance reform was further influenced by middle-class women's participation in the public world of voluntary philanthropy, and the movement of women from charity to social reform cross-pollinated women's associations with similar reforming strategies. This study's fresh perspective on women's public lives further emphasises the breadth of the constitutional suffrage movement.

Keywords: feminine public sphere; voluntary philanthropy; women's public lives; complementary nature; female domesticity

Chapter.  2690 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural History

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