Fulfilling roles: Midland women, developing roles and identities C.1760-1860
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AbstractThis thesis examines the lives of a group of Midland women in the period c. 1760-1860. They were the wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of the middle-class entrepreneurial and professional men of the region. During this period the Midlands produced individuals who expanded production and commerce, often with little technical innovation, but with a shrewd sense of what was marketable. Men such as the Wedgwoods, Boultons and Kenricks built businesses, sponsored canals and highways, and invented, produced and sold an ever-expanding supply of goods world-wide. Yet while the lives of such men have been celebrated, the women of these families have often been overlooked. They are the focus of this thesis, which will address this gap in the history of the entrepreneurial and professional families of the Midlands. Examining the identities of these women through a range of archival and printed sources, both as individuals and as members of families, communities, networks and organisations, particular attention is paid to changing social and cultural attitudes. The thesis will investigate whether and how their experiences contributed to the wider debates on women’s roles in this period, examining the role of networks in assisting women to operate in a variety of spaces, broadening their political consciousness, and questioning what, if any, generational changes are visible. The thesis will argue that in this period, middle-class women negotiated social and cultural conventions of class and gender through a variety of roles which empowered them to shape their own identities. A microhistory study such as this highlights the more subtle and complex efforts made by women in search of autonomy, filling in gaps created in broader studies. In revealing contradictions of the norm, a more nuanced view of women’s experiences can also emerge. The thesis aims to extend existing knowledge in the field of social and cultural history by researching the experiences of these middle-class women of the Midlands who, for the most part, notwithstanding their achievements as businesswomen, religious figures and contributors to science and literature, have escaped the notice of scholars of women’s history. Yet knowledge of women’s activities beyond feminist campaigns can broaden our understanding of what may have been important to their social group. They all had something to say, even the quieter ones. In examining their activities this thesis restores their social and cultural histories and, by highlighting their concerns and interests, allows a more inclusive picture of British middle-class women’s experiences in the period 1760 to 1860 to emerge, with some surprising results.
TypeThesis or dissertation
DescriptionA thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the University of Wolverhampton for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
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