A hidden matriarchy among the urban poor of England, 1880-1939

Chinn, Carl
December 1991
Labour History Review (Maney Publishing);Winter91, Vol. 56 Issue 3, p9
Academic Journal
The article informs that according to social worker Helen Bosanquet, the wives of the urban poor spent wastefully what their husbands gave them grudgingly. As an informed middle-class commentator on the working class, her criticisms were accepted widely, as were those of men such as Jack London. At the turn of the century, he described the women of London's East End as slatternly, unkempt, bleary-eyed and towsled, leering and gibbering, overspilling with foulness and corruption, and gone in debauch. As someone whose family came from the poverty-stricken districts of Birmingham, the author felt that these comments bore no relation to her female relatives. Her disbelief was substantiated by her own oral evidence and by the autobiographical memories of a host of working-class people. What emerged from this material was a positive image of the women of the urban poor, an image which emphasized their hard work, their ingenuity and their devotion to their families. Moreover, this evidence stressed that within their own communities many women achieved a status which transformed them into matriarchs--albeit matriarchs whose strength was hidden behind a patriarchal facade.


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