Women and Work

Description

Written by artist and feminist activist Barbara Leigh Smith, Women and Work is a radical pamphlet that was published in 1857 during a decade of mounting feminist activity in England. Women and Work argues for women’s equal rights to education, employment opportunities and financial independence, within a range of professions. It strives to elevate the social status of working women by persuading its readers that employment is respectable for women. In contrast, it argues that married women’s financial dependence on their husbands is morally degrading. 

The Langham Place group 

Leigh Smith was the leader of the ‘Langham Place group’, a mid-Victorian circle of middle-class women who campaigned to improve women’s condition. Major concerns were women’s education and employment, across all classes. The group published pamphlets and the English Woman's Journal, gathered petitions, established societies, and ran initiatives such as teaching women arithmetic. In 1866 several members, including Leigh Smith, led the first campaign for women’s suffrage. 

Barbara Leigh Smith and Elizabeth Barrett Browning 

As a successful poet who engaged with women’s issues, Elizabeth Barrett Browning had a substantial impact on female reformers such as Leigh Smith. Indeed, Barrett Browning was friends with several women from the Langham Place circle. Examples from her poetry and her career were drawn on to bolster their debates about women’s role in society. Leigh Smith quotes passages from Aurora Leigh (1856) in Women and Work, opening with the powerful epigraph: 

Whoever says 
To a loyal woman, ‘love and work with me’, 
Will get fair answer, if the work and Love, 
Being good themselves, are good for her, the best 
She was born for.

Full title:
Women and Work
Published:
1857, London
Format:
Book
Creator:
Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
8282.b.36.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Elizabeth Barrett Browning: social and political issues

Article by:
Simon Avery
Themes:
Victorian poetry, Power and politics

From industrialisation to slavery, Dr Simon Avery looks at the 19th century social and political issues that fed into Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poetry.

Daughters of decadence: the New Woman in the Victorian fin de siècle

Article by:
Greg Buzwell
Themes:
Gender and sexuality, Fin de siècle

Free-spirited and independent, educated and uninterested in marriage and children, the figure of the New Woman threatened conventional ideas about ideal Victorian womanhood. Greg Buzwell explores the place of the New Woman – by turns comical, dangerous and inspirational – in journalism and in fiction by writers such as Thomas Hardy, George Gissing and Sarah Grand.

Gender roles in the 19th century

Article by:
Kathryn Hughes
Theme:
Gender and sexuality

From marriage and sexuality to education and rights, Professor Kathryn Hughes looks at attitudes towards gender in 19th-century Britain.

Related collection items

Related works

Aurora Leigh

Created by: Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) completed this controversial nine-book novel in blank verse form in 1856. It ...