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Emigrant gentlewomen : genteel poverty and female emigration, 1830-1914

CollectionsANU Press (1965- Present)
Title: Emigrant gentlewomen : genteel poverty and female emigration, 1830-1914
Author(s): Hammerton, A. James
Date published: 1979
Publisher: Canberra, ACT : Australian National University Press
Despite much recent revisionist analysis of the traditional stereotypes of Victorian women, the downtrodden and helpless {u2018}distressed gentlewoman{u2019} has survived or evaded historical scrutiny. This book examines the distressed gentle woman stereotype, primarily through a study of the experience of emigration among single middle-class women between 1830 and 1914. Based largely on a study of government and philanthropic emigration projects, it argues that the image of the downtrodden resident governess does inadequate justice to Victorian middle-class women{u2019}s responses to the experience of economic and social decline and to insufficient female employment opportunities. Although powerful factors operated to discourage distressed gentlewomen from risking the hardships of emigration, research among emigrants{u2019} letters and other records of female emigration societies from Australia, Canada, New Zealand and South Africa, shows that middle-class women without economic resources persistently took advantage of the invariably meagre facilities enabling them to emigrate. Once out of Britain they proved to be remarkably adaptable emigrants. Instead of the helpless simpering gentility normally associated with the stereotype, women showed a willingness to risk their gentility by undertaking work which would have been unthinkable at home. Their experience raises wider questions about the potential for resourcefulness and adaptability among Victorian women and reveals qualities which are inconsistent with the traditional view of woman as victim.


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