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Victorian Feminism, 1850-1900

Philippa Levine


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"Admirable, lucid....A splendid textbook (complete with chronologies of significant dates) that offers a competent overview of feminist protest in the Victorian era. It will be widely recommended for students of history and women’s studies courses in higher education."—Times Higher Education Supplement
 
"An excellent, well-researched survey of the many fronts of feminist struggle for equality from 1850 to 1900...The thesis of this small useful book is that the aggressive activities of the well-known British suffragettes have obscured the significance of other areas of the feminist movement in the half-century before 1900. Philippa Levine’s survey of Victorian feminism covers these neglected issues succinctly...A great asset to all courses on modern England and British feminism."—American Historical Review  
 
The second half of the nineteenth century saw in newly industrialized England the creation of a “domestic ideology” that drew a sharp line between domestic woman and public man. Though never the dominant reality, this demarcation of men’s and women’s spheres ordered people’s values and justified the existing social structure. Out of this context sprang a women’s movement that celebrated its female identity, its campaigns “concerned as much with promoting that optimistic self-image as with a simple call for equality with men.”  
 
Levine traces the changing face of a half century of England’s feminist movement, the personalities who dominated it, its pressing issues, and the tactics employed in the fight. Political themes common to the specific protests, she finds, included women’s moral superiority, a close-knit sense of a supportive female community, and a conscious woman-centeredness of interests.  
 
Along the way, Levine puts to rest many inaccuracies and assumptions that have dogged the history of presuffragette feminism, causing it to be discredited or dismissed. She refutes, for example, the judgement that the movement served only the needs of bourgeois women, and she warns against the pitfall of defining feminism by the standards of a male politics whose practices make comparisons inadequate and unsuitable.  
 
Levine has organized her study with an eye to the breadth of concerns that characterized England’s nineteenth-century feminism: women’s entry into education and the professions; trade unionism, working conditions, equal pay; suffrage and other political and property rights for women; marriage and morality issues—prostitution, incest, venereal disease, wife abuse, pornography, and equal rights to divorce.  
 
Philippa Levine is Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas in the department of history at the University of Texas at Austin and codirector of the program in British Studies. 

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