“Worthy Citizens”: Middle-Class Women and the Public Sphere in Leicester c. 1850-1900


Although the political and economic history of Leicester during the nineteenth century has been well-documented, the current historiography focuses on the contribution made by Leicester’s men. Women are rarely mentioned. Yet while the male elite of the town sought to bring about civic improvements at a time of rapid industrial change, women also made a significant contribution to the improvement of late nineteenth-century Leicester. This thesis explores women’s contribution to the middle-class reforming culture in the town and places it within the broader national context of women’s activism. The study assesses the nature and extent of women’s contribution to public life through their involvement in philanthropy, local government, civic societies and the temperance and anti-Contagious Diseases Acts campaigns. It suggests that by the end of the nineteenth century, through their public work which was focused on social and moral reform, a small group of middle-class women had clearly emerged in Leicester, regarded by others as leading citizens and acutely aware of their own responsibilities and duties. The involvement of local women in the public sphere led to an increased feminist consciousness for some and calls for full citizenship during the second half of the nineteenth century. In Leicester the Victorian suffrage campaign laid the foundations upon which the Edwardian suffragettes built. As women increased their involvement in civic public life, often working alongside men within the same local organisations, by the end of century the urban middle-class public sphere should be seen as a whole within which women were working not only on a ‘gendered’ basis but also increasingly performing tasks which had formerly fallen within the ‘male sphere’.





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Francis, Sarah Elizabeth, ““Worthy Citizens”: Middle-Class Women and the Public Sphere in Leicester c. 1850-1900,” Centre for English Local History Theses and Papers, accessed September 29, 2022, https://elhleics.omeka.net/items/show/131.