“When is a Woman…?” Exploring Cultural Expectations of Women Advocated in Historical Newspapers

Montage of snippets from newspapers considering "when is a woman...?"

by Lotta Vuorio, Gale Ambassador at the University of Helsinki

When I was preparing to deliver my first presentation as a Gale Ambassador, I ran into an interesting article called “When Woman is Not Graceful” in Gale’s Nineteenth Century Collections Online. The article was published in a newspaper called The Christian Recorder in 1895, and it portrays some of the “conditions under which she (a woman) manages to look absurd” – at least in the opinion of the anonymous writer. The article appears as an opinion piece by Graphic London and it expresses outspokenly all the descriptions connected to the stereotype of women who move clumsily. It says, “Few women can enter a carriage, mount the steps of a coach or hurry into a hansom gracefully, while the spectacle of a woman getting into a boat is far from pleasing”.  The vast petticoats common in the nineteenth century and their effects on the ability of women to move are mentioned and criticised, and the writer finishes his piece by indicating the true form of grace: “A woman is only really graceful when she is at rest, lolling in a carriage or sitting in a drawing room or else dancing, when she has the genius for it.” I wanted to find this article again and began searching the Gale Primary Sources database. In doing so I came across many more newspaper articles with a heading that begins “When is a Woman…”. As I browsed through them I became intrigued, curious about the way articles in different newspapers described what was acceptable and admired in the appearance and behaviour of women. Below are some of the most fascinating examples I found.

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Feminist protests over the years – the continued fight for equality

By Anita Klich, Gale Ambassador at Portsmouth University, UK

I am a Gale Ambassador as well as a Student Ambassador at the University of Portsmouth where I study Journalism and Media Studies. I’m graduating later this year and hope to work in journalism, public relations or digital marketing next year. Some of my many interests are art, learning foreign languages and psychology. I have a passion for broadening my knowledge, and want to promote Gale resources as they give people the opportunity to explore history, which is a key element of research in many fields of study. If you study at Portsmouth and have a question for Anita about Gale Primary Sources, please contact [email protected]

Women have been fighting for equality for decades; in the 1980s and ‘90s, there were many protests addressing the issue of inequality in the workplace and society overall. The Gale resource Archives of Sexuality & Gender provides students and scholars with documents to examine and critically assess issues concerning LGBTQ history and culture as well as Feminist movements, thus allowing academics to compare and determine how the situation has – or has not – changed over the years.

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