Central to any study of 19th century society is social class. At the top were the independently rich,
next came the professionals, then the working class. At the bottom of the heap was an 'underclass'.
It is commonly believed that all wives were kept by husbands until the mid-20th century. It is true that
women married to wealthy or professional men were usually supported by him, a symbol of status to which the
'upper' working class also aspired. However, in relation to the majority it is a myth: most working class wives
worked for wages.
In 1851, forty-three percent of British women over 20 had no spouse: thirty percent were
single and thirteen percent widowed. Of these, ten percent lived on personal or family wealth, and
the other ninety percent were employed. In 1851 about thirty percent of the workforce was female.
I have chosen to concentrate the 19th-century section of this website on the 1840s to the 1860s,
simply because there is so much source material after then, that to attempt to include it all would
have rendered this project unmanageable.
Hastings & St Leonards
Conception and childbirth
The Aristocracy and Gentry
The Working Class