Decorative Initial Kingsford's ignorance of class inequality borders on naivety. Her overlooking campaigns for birth control and the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act suggests she had little notion of the primary needs of most women, and her advice to middle-class women who "find the present meaningless routine of their lives irksome" suggests she was equally out of touch with most women of her own class. Her advice to them: 'Occupy those leisure hours, of which you have so many, and which hitherto you have employed in some foolish amusement, in studying philosophy, poetry, and natural religion. Exercise your body healthily, and forego stays and all other hurtful fashions of dress' (An Essay, 27). Although such a learned life seems preferable to the mundane life of most middle class women, Anna seems unaware that the majority of them did not have endless leisure hours or money to dedicate to such a liberal and liberating education. The influence of liberalism is detectable in her political writing; she promoted a sort of 'female citizenship' which encouraged women to be active in the public sphere. Although she probably recognized the plight of working class women, her focus was on the intellectual enlightening of middle class women, which she hoped would bring about wider change for all classes.

Eventually, however, she became disillusioned with the woman's movement of her time, and according to Maitland, 'that which most of all she reprobated in this connection was the disposition which led women to despise womanhood itself as an inferior condition, and accordingly to cultivate the masculine at the expense of the feminine side of their nature' (Life, I, 19). It was the paradoxical relationship between equality and difference in the women's movement that eventually led Kingsford away from it. Maitland does not make clear who these women who were despising womanhood were, but Kingsford probably have had in mind the 'new woman' character that became more prominent later in the century but which began to emerge around this time. Middle class women now had marginal access to education and financial independence, and the popularity of the bicycle gave them mobility. Women had the chance of opting out of marriage and motherhood in favour of pursuing their own ambitions.

Kingsford may also have felt that women were neglecting their appearance. In her pamphlet on Health, Beauty and the Toilet Kingsford reminds readers that is a woman's duty to be beautiful. It is hard to reconcile this manner of thinking with the woman who advocated complete turning away from the material needs of the body. This may be an issue Anna seemed unable to resolve in her feminist consciousness. Similarly, she believed marriage and motherhood the ideal state for women though she herself was an entirely absent wife and mother!

Related Material

References

Kingsford, Anna, Md. Health, Beauty and the Toilet. London: Frederick Warne and Co., 1886 (Posthumously published).

Kingsford, Ninon. An Essay on The Admission of Women to the Parliamentary Franchise. London: Trubner & Co., 1868. [During various periods in her life Kingsford used different first names: when she was younger she often referred to herself as "Ninon", which as far as I can tell was a childhood nickname from her brother. Later she started referring to herself as "Mary." JB]

Maitland, Edward. Anna Kingsford: Her Life, Letters, Diary and Work. 2 Vols. Whitefish: Kessinger Publishing, 2003.


Victorian Web Overview Religion Gender Matters

Last modified 20 August 2007