[This document comes from Helena Wojtczak's English Social History: Women of Nineteenth-Century Hastings and St.Leonards. An Illustrated Historical Miscellany, which the author has graciously shared with readers of the Victorian Web. Click on the title to obtain the original site, which has additional information.]

Central to any study of nineteenth century society is social class. At the top were the independently rich, next came the professionals, then the working class. At the bottom of the heap was an 'underclass'.

It is commonly believed that all wives were kept by husbands until the mid-20th century. It is true that women married to wealthy or professional men were usually supported by him, a symbol of status to which the 'upper' working class also aspired. However, in relation to the majority it is a myth: most working class wives worked for wages.

In 1851, forty-three precent of British women over 20 had no spouse: thirty percent were single and thirteen percent widowed. Of these, ten percent lived on personal or family wealth, and the other ninety percent were employed. In 1851 about thirty percent of the workforce was female.

I have chosen to concentrate the nineteenth-century section of this website on the 1840s to the 1860s, simply because there is so much source material after then, that to attempt to include it all would have rendered this project unmanageable.

Hastings & St Leonards

Conception and childbirth

The Aristocracy and Gentry

The Working Class

The Underclass


Gender History

Last modified 2000