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In Search of the New Woman
Middle-Class Women and Work in Britain 1870–1914


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  • Date Published: November 2018
  • availability: Available
  • format: Paperback
  • isbn: 9781107467347

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About the Authors
  • The 'New Women' of late nineteenth-century Britain were seen as defying society's conventions. Studying this phenomenon from its origins in the 1870s to the outbreak of the Great War, Gillian Sutherland examines whether women really had the economic freedom to challenge norms relating to work, political action, love and marriage, and surveys literary and pictorial representations of the New Woman. She considers the proportion of middle-class women who were in employment and the work they did, and compares the different experiences of women who went to Oxbridge and those who went to other universities. Juxtaposing them against the period's rapidly expanding but seldom studied groups of women white-collar workers, the book pays particular attention to clerks and teachers, and their political engagement. It also explores the dividing lines between ladies and women, the significance of respectability and the interactions of class, status and gender lying behind such distinctions.

    • Brings together literary and historical evidence on the New Woman phenomenon, appealing to readers who only know one side of this story
    • Focuses on middle-class women, a relatively uncovered subject compared to the mass of writing about working-class women
    • Faces the complex interactions of class and status with gender
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    • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2015

    Reviews & endorsements

    'Gillian Sutherland looks beyond the much-discussed, much-caricatured New Woman of the 1890s - dashing, daring, and scandalously experimental - to the real women of the period, and turns up the truth that most female agents of change then were clerks and especially schoolteachers. Both cultural historians and general readers will be fascinated by the stories told here, and persuaded that the media hype of periods long before our own should also be viewed with skepticism.' Rachel M. Brownstein, City University of New York

    'The 'new woman' was typist, nurse, schoolteacher or actress - beneficiaries of the 1902 Education Act, advocates of social reform, economic independence and political liberty. Gillian Sutherland's fine new book argues that 'new women' were the shock troops of change in class and sexual relations and national culture in Britain in the early twentieth century.' Sally Alexander, Goldsmiths, University of London

    'Gillian Sutherland's book is indispensable. This is the first book to accrue and examine a vast array of historical evidence as to the New Woman's actual existence. The results, and Sutherland's astute conclusions, will completely change the way in which we think about women in the nineteenth century.' Clare Pettitt, King's College London

    'This lucidly written study blows open the late nineteenth-century journalistic cliché of the New Woman. Consistently alert to subtleties of class, agency, and respectability, Sutherland's extensive research shows the slow, rather than sensational changes that were taking place, and opens up new doors of inquiry in women's social and cultural history.' Kate Flint, University of Southern California

    'The book is well written and cogently argued, employing considerable, even admirable, research. It fits - indeed, leads - in a field that has grown dramatically in historical study, especially because it repeatedly points clearly to areas of study needed to better understand women and women's work in historical context. An important contribution that should be in all libraries.' M. J. Moore, Choice

    'Sutherland's innovative approach to middle- and lower-middle-class women's expanding professional prospects and shifting social and political outlooks offers a number of intriguing lines of inquiry. She explores records from technical schools, tracing the educational infrastructure that helped sustain socially aspiring women's mass entrance into clerical employment. Sutherland also devotes substantial attention to the complex expansion of state education and the generally positive opportunities this afforded female teachers.' Katie Hindmarch-Watson, Journal of Modern History

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    Product details

    • Date Published: November 2018
    • format: Paperback
    • isbn: 9781107467347
    • length: 199 pages
    • dimensions: 230 x 153 x 10 mm
    • weight: 0.41kg
    • contains: 11 b/w illus. 2 tables
    • availability: Available
  • Table of Contents

    1. 'A sort of bogey whom no-one has ever seen'? The nature of the search
    2. 'All that she sees before her … is teaching': formal schooling and its opportunities
    3. 'The exercise of what may be termed her maternal faculties': public service and 'caring' occupations
    4. 'Impossible for a lady to remain a lady': art, literature and the theatre
    5. 'The real social divide existed between those who … dirtied hands and face and those who did not': women white collar workers (I)
    6. 'A beggarly makeshift, but for me it was wealth beyond price': women white collar workers (II)
    7. Ladies and women
    8. Some conclusions: degrees of freedom
    Sources and select bibliography.

  • Author

    Gillian Sutherland, University of Cambridge
    Gillian Sutherland's first work addressed government in nineteenth-century Britain, and the essays she edited in 1972, Studies in the Growth of Nineteenth-Century Government, have remained a standard work, republished in a new library edition in 2010. She focussed then on developing structures of government in education; more generally she has worked to place education firmly within the mainstream of British political, social, cultural and economic history in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. She has published extensively on elementary education, on intelligence testing between 1880 and 1940, and on the transformation of the education of women. She ran the international conference, 'The Transformation of an Elite?' commissioned to mark the 50th anniversary of the admission of women to full membership of the University of Cambridge in 1998, and she delivered the nineteenth-century lecture in the History Faculty series for the University's 800th anniversary celebrations in 2009. Her most recent book with Cambridge University Press was Faith, Duty and the Power of Mind: The Cloughs and their Circle, 1820–1960 (2006). Retired now from full-time teaching, she remains research-active as a Fellow of Newnham College and a member of the History Faculty at Cambridge.


    • A Choice Outstanding Academic Title 2015

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