Between 1780 and 1850 Britain was industrialising. Towns were transforming into cities and the landscape changing from subsistence farming into one of large factories and mills.
Traditional crafts were being displaced by machinery and new living spaces created cramped and squalid conditions. These significant economic and social changes influenced the ways in which male and female roles were perceived.
The notion of ‘spheres of separation’ considered a women’s place to be in the home, and regarded it as a haven from the chaotic and busy world of factories and business. Sufficient emotional fulfillment was to be found as a wife and mother and these new standards ensured numerous publications were sold informing women how to be good household managers. Marriage signified maturity and respectability, but motherhood was idealised as a world of virtue and female fulfilment. A man on the other hand was to be found in the public realm of business and politics.
In the March of 1786, the sheriffs of London presented a petition to the King of England, King George 111, stating the urgent need to transport unwanted, diseased criminals crowding England’s jails and hulks. With the colonies of the America no longer an option – they were lost during the war of independence in 1783, the suitability of various places around the globe was undertaken by a Committee of the House of Commons.
The historian Catherine Macaulay stated in her History of England,
‘the invidious censures which may ensue from striking into a path of literature rarely trodden by my sex……will not keep me mute in the cause of liberty.’
This statement reflected the resentment well-educated, independent thinking women of Europe felt toward the perceived inferiority of the female sex on matters of political and intellectual importance, even at the end of the 18th century. This subordination stemmed from Christian doctrine- namely the Genesis creation story, where Eve was the cause of all sin. Influences of traditional medical and Greek philosophical ideas around woman as a ‘deformity’ or an imperfect man were also passed down from the ‘Era of the Fathers’, 300 to 430 C.E. to early modern times by the Roman Catholic church, contributing to construct feminine ideals. This religious discourse oppressed, subordinated and justified women as inferior, weaker and more unruly of the sexes, from medieval to early modern times. Keep reading!!
The Catholic Church’s long held beliefs were rocked by the many changes of the 16th Century Reformation. Puritans in the 17th Century sought continued reform and idealized the church be rebuilt in the purest form of the 1st century, as established by Christ himself.
Puritan theology endorsed an intense individual spiritual connection to God, without the need for the middle man, the priest, so fundamental in the Catholic religion to the ever sought after salvation. The Puritan was considered competent, conscientious and responsible, and believed only he needed await God’s special grace for salvation. Puritan worship was autocratic, hierarchical, and departed ways from the Anglican Church in their diligent adherence to the authority of the bible as God’s written word, which was applied to every aspect of life. Keep reading!!