Middle-class women, civic virtue and identity : Leeds and the West Riding of Yorkshire, c1830-c.1860
This thesis analyses women's contribution to the development of a progressive middle-class identity in the period 1830 to 1860. Using Leeds as a case study, it argues that the ideals of civic virtue, service and the 'civilising mission' lying at the heart of this identity played an important role in the lives of women as well as men. The study begins by summarising the historiographical debates over women and the middle class, and the importance of gender in the construction of the 'public sphere'. Chapter Two sets out the historical background within the town of Leeds itself, concentrating on the emergence of 'middle-class' institutions and identifying the particular groups who were the driving force behind them. The remaining chapters systematically explore the activities of middle-class women in the public life of their town, concentrating on the subjects of education, philanthropy, politics and civic culture. Chapter Three looks at the idealisation of women's social and public roles in educational literature, before considering women's relationship to educational and cultural institutions. Chapters Four and Five reconsider philanthropy as an arena in which class and gender identities were constructed and played out, and through which civic-minded women could find an outlet for reforming impulses. In particular, chapter five analyses the importance of women's committees in the creation of independent space for female initiatives, despite male attempts at containment. Chapter Six examines women's activities in local and national politics, analysing the key role of the press in the interpretation of female political activities. Chapter Seven looks at the way in which elite women were able to claim public space as part of the audience at public rituals and ceremonies, returning to the importance of press explanations of this participation through the use of chivalric metaphors which portrayed women as the guardians of civic virtue.