Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner
Two wives of British colonial agents in India compiled their experiences in this practical guide for new “memsahibs” (Indian term of respect for married, upper-class white women) in British-controlled India. Flora Annie Steel (1847–1929) and Grace Gardiner share advice that is often humorous or outrageous as well as sophisticated. The work, called the “Mrs. Beeton of British India” (Document 18.4), attempts to maintain “British standards” in a country of unfamiliar food products, extreme heat, and different cultural expectations. This selection guides a wife through what may seem like shocking changes—occasionally revealing a rather haughty tinge of colonialist superiority.
From Flora Annie Steel and Grace Gardiner, Complete Indian Housekeeper and Cook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010, pp. 6, 11–5, 55–62.
The British activist Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–1797), mother of author Mary Shelley and the bearer of a tainted reputation, wrote a letter called “Vindication of the Rights of Man” (1790) to Edmund Burke criticizing his Reflections on the Revolution in France (Document 16.1) for its support of the aristocracy. Two years later, she altered the title for a feminist letter that argues for education and respect for women as valuable and contributing members of society. Now considered a founder of feminism, Wollstonecraft advocated on behalf of her fellow women in her dedication to a fellow pamphleteer, the enigmatic diplomat Talleyrand (1754–1838). Here, she outlines her main quest for education and provides a glimpse into her charm and energy.
From Mary Wollenstonecraft, Vindication of the Rights of Women. London: J. Johnson, 1792.
Before Caroline Norton wrote the activist letters in Document 18.1 with the aim of improving the legal status of women in Britain, she wrote a detailed account of her own losses in her English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century. She tells her side of the mental and physical abuses she endured during her life with Mr. George Norton, a lawyer she married at the age of nineteen in 1827. Consider how revelations from her private experience may have affected a Victorian audience as well as fueling Norton’s political quests.
From C. Norton, English Laws for Women in the Nineteenth Century. Westport, Conn.: Hyperion Press, Inc., 1981, pp. 22–, 31–3, 49–50, 54–7, 147–8, 150, 154, 158–9, 175.
The wife of a publisher, Isabella Beeton (1836–1865) translated her cooking talent into printed how-to guides for the women of London. Her grand guide, Mrs. Beetons’ Book of Household Management, provides nearly a thousand recipes as well as helpful tips for running a proper Victorian household. Mrs. Beeton was only twenty-one years old when she began compiling the project, which sold over fifty thousand copies its first year. Consider the wide scope of skills Mrs. Beeton thinks a proper mistress should possess.
From Isabella Beeton, Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. Ed. Nicola Humble. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009, pp. 7, 11–2, 18–9, 21–4, 27, 29, 569–70.
Remembered chiefly as an education reformer, Maria Montessori (1870–1952) was also a social activist who brought the plight of Italy’s urban poor to light. In this excerpt from the third chapter of her book The Montessori Method, she reprints an address she made at the formal opening (1907) of the first of her “Children’s Houses” – this one in Rome, in the then-famous slum in the San Lorenzo district.
Translation by Clifford R. Backman
Caroline Norton (1808–1877) was a British feminist and reformer who was renowned for her beauty. Norton translated her personal experiences—of a bitter divorce and the denial of custody of her children—into activism on behalf of married women. As a direct result of her efforts, Parliament passed acts protecting women’s custody, marriage rights, and property in the 1840s–1860s. Her letter to the Lord Chancellor on the Infant Custody Bill argues eloquently but forcefully in favor of female custody. Sixteen years later, Norton aimed even higher and wrote a letter directly to the Queen of England to remedy the problem that British married women had, as she phrased it, “no legal existence.”
From Norton, Caroline Sheridan, 1808–1877. The Separation of Mother and Child by the Law of “Custody of Infants,” Considered. London: Roake and Varty, 1831; Strand, 1838, pp. 1–6.
The American writer Winnifred Harper Cooley (1874–1967) described in depth the feminist ideal known as the “New Woman,” a term popularized by the writer Henry James for characters like the protagonist in Daisy Miller. The New Woman pushed against male dominance and sought education, independence, suffrage, and control of her own life. This chapter of The New Womanhood shows the shift in opinion of the unmarried woman, from poor spinster to “bachelor maiden,” that occurs when a woman acts decisively to craft her own lifestyle. Consider how Cooley alerts her readers to the misstep of idealizing this figure, who may be less a woman in full control and more an inadvertent victim of her sociopolitical circumstances.
From Winnifred Cooley, The New Womanhood. New York: Broadway Publishing Co., 1904, pp. 135–45.
Karl Marx (1818–1883) and Friedrich Engels (1820–1895) are best known for their collaborative work The Communist Manifesto (1848). However, the two had been observing the real consequences of industrialization for factory workers, particularly in Manchester, England, for many years before this. Working in his father’s cotton factory in England, Engels had witnessed the inequities imposed by industrial systems, and he composed a scathing attack on these systems in his Condition of the Working-Class in England (1845). When Marx befriended Engels in Manchester, he too came to see how local conditions could lead to wide-ranging theories about labor, wages, and the measurement of “costs.” In this lecture, delivered in December 1847, Marx took his audience through the most basic elements of the philosophy that would culminate in Das Kapital (vol. 1, 1867).
http://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1847/wage-labour/, first published in German in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (April 5–8, 11, 1849), and edited and translated by Friedrich Engels for an 1891 pamphlet.
The British Parliament took on a series of initiatives to investigate the lives of women and children in the mid-nineteenth century, and the resulting testimonies, presented by workers to the various parliamentary commissions make for fascinating—and uniquely visceral—reading. The lives of working children are rarely detailed in historical sources from any era, but these testimonies had a direct impact, if not a fully humane one, on the lives of British laborers. These documents were collected for Lord Ashley’s Mines Commission of 1842, and the shocking testimony resulted in the Mines Act of 1842, which prohibited the employment in the mines of all females and of boys under 13 years of age.
http://www.victorianweb.org/history/ashley.html, from Readings in European History Since 1814, ed. Jonathan F. Scott and Alexander Baltzly (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1930), drawing on Parliamentary Papers, 1842, vols. 25–27, Appendix 1, 252, 258, 439, 461; Appendix 2, 107, 122, 205.