Women, health and charity : women in the poor relief systems in eighteenth century Scotland and France
This thesis is a study of the participation of women in the operation of the poor relief systems of Scotland and France in the eighteenth century. It examines whether or not religious difference affected the way that poor women were treated. It challenges the idea that women constituted the majority of those receiving aid from the male authorities. Certainly many women needed relief but they were not the ones who received it in the main. The church, the infirmaries and the workhouses all aided more men than women. On receipt of aid, moreover, women usually received less. This was contradictory not only to the earlier perceptions of female poverty but also to those of male poverty. The fact that men were the majority of those receiving aid and the majority of those in the institution is, on the surface, the more surprising since neither country believed in relief for the able-bodied unemployed poor. While this thesis contributes to the gender analysis of history it also recognises that social class was also a factor in the distribution of relief. Women played a fuller role in the institutions than the men and were able to avoid continual poverty by working as carers, cleaners and nurses. It would seem to be the case that women made more use of the outdoor relief available to them rather than the possibility of admission to any of the institutions. Even when a ward was established for the exclusive use of women in pregnancy this was not utilised to any extent. Catholic France, because of the traditional role played by women within the church, made more use of women and their work in the institutions. It allowed more professionalisation of the role of nurses and midwives than did Protestant Scotland.