'Making ends meet' : working-class women's strategies against poverty in West Oxfordshire, c.1850-1900
This thesis seeks to contribute to two areas of historical enquiry: the history of women and the history of poverty, by investigating the strategies used by women to cope with poverty. It attempts this in a systematic way by applying a taxonomy of strategies to the case study area of West Oxfordshire from the mid-to-late nineteenth century. As such, it broadens our understanding of the lives of women living in a rural area as well as examining poverty from the perspective of the responses to it. Three main strategies were considered; employment, household management and community strategies. General results of the analysis suggest that the strategic approach is a valuable method of examining the way poor rural women coped with poverty, highlighting the interconnections between their roles of reproduction, production and consumption. Specific results suggest that first, a radical rethink of the role and importance of the home as a female power base is required. Second, although strategies are difficult to quantify, certain strategies appear to have been more popular than others; household management emerged as the pivotal strategy to make ends meet. Careful spending and saving and the ability to utilise a variety of resouces such as animal husbandry and gardens and allotments was necessary in the fight against poverty. Employment, although of value, could not always be relied upon to provide a steady, regular income. Community strategies were of some value. They were provided informally by kin and the neighbourhood and formally by charities and poor relief. Third, certain factors were influential concerning the nature of strategies; namely duration of need, age and marital status, geographical location, seasonality and conditions for eligibility. The organic nature of the taxonomy means that it can be expanded to include additional strategies and used to study other groups of women such as the middle-class, different historical periods and geographical locations.