Despite the fact that most Victorians male and female firmly believed in separate spheres, towards the end of the 19th centaury it became more and more challenged. Political rights at a local level were still seen as the private sphere but on a larger scale. This means that there was no problem for women to have the right to vote and serve for school boards(1875), become poor law guardians (1875), vote for the new county and county borough councils (1888) and to serve on urban and district councils (1894).
However political rights at a national level were seen as part of the public sphere as it involved war and taxes, therefore it was seen as the mans public sector and even by the turn of the centaury remained inaccessible to women. This theory was also tested in the 1860s when a series of woman’s colleges were founded meaning that women for the first time had access to further education out of there domesticated sphere. By the end of the 19th centaury alterations in universities regulations meant that women could obtain the qualifications necessary to enter most
Professions such as journalism, medicine and teaching, however there were still many professions women could not enter as the theory of separate spheres often interfered, these included law and politics, mainly as they were the 2 most important professions in the public “mans” sphere. Despite the separate spheres theory forming such a fundamental part of Victorian life for all, through out the 19th centaury it became increasingly challenged by women at work, education and in there families, and although it did not decrease significantly in popularity, it did decrease steadily in importance.
Much of the expectations place upon Victorian women would have been in respect of her class. Although employment and education did improve towards the end of the 19th centaury, most women of all classes still believed that it was only acceptable to be married for security and status despite the huge loss in independence it involved. Traditionally middle-class women would be expected to give up any previous employment to stay at home and bring up several children as well as running the home deploying the servants; this would take up nearly all of their time.
However as it approached the beginning of the 20th centaury, further education such as going to university, became more common and highly regarded as an opportunity for independence as well as a necessary privilege for upper or middle- class women.
Also as a result more women delayed marriage until later in life resulting in less children being born allowing middle class women to have more leisure time for themselves. Whilst life for middle class women was improving a Whilst life for middle class women was improving, alternatively life for working-class women was very different. The new laws introduced such as allowing women to enter universities had little relevance to their lives; marriage to a man in regular employment still remained the main ambition of working-class women. Large families were still extremely common with some women pregnant on an almost annual basis, high mortality rates making many widows and having to cope with poverty was still a huge reality.
Many were forced to take up employment, meaning they were forced to cope with work as well as running a household, with little and often no hope from there husband. Overall the role and status of women in society did improve by 1900 in the fact that they were respected in more areas such as education and new jobs Were available such as white blouse work, greatly improving there status out side the traditional private sphere. Many middle-class women also proved to others that they could cope being independent and not having to rely on a man.
However although there was little improvement, there was still a lot left to be done to dramatically improve the role and status of women such as equal pay and less limitations in what women were able to do such as the right to vote. Therefore the extent in which the role and status of women improved in the 19th centaury was minimal but not non-existent.
Votes for women 1860-1928 by Paula Bartley The Angel in the House By 1900 Middle-class women had Access to Opportunities in Higher education by Sophie Badham (article) http://i5.photobucket.com