Employment, politics and working-class women in north east England, c. 1790-1914
This thesis explores the issue of the economic and political agency of working-class women in North East England for the period c.1790-1914. In contrast to the national average, the North East was populated by more men than women in this period, whilst the dominance of industrial trades such as coal, shipbuilding, iron and steel, and engineering resulted in the lowest female employment rates in the country, as well as the highest marriage rates and the youngest average age at marriage. These trends are investigated in detail and would suggest that if anywhere women were to be powerless it was here. Yet, as this thesis shows, women in the North East were active constituents of local culture and politics, often through different means, and with alternative motives than has been claimed for localities where there existed high rates of female employment. The impact of structural changes in the political system during the latter nineteenth century is assessed and it is suggested that whilst many political organisations of this period involved a small number of working-class women in contemporary political debate they were generally unsuccessful at appealing directly on political issues of substance; the formal politics of this period did not always coincide with the politicisation of working-class men and women. This thesis aims to strike a balance between typical and atypical experiences by exploring the social climate of a large region rather than focus specifically upon potentially unrepresentative localities.