Middle Class Women and the Public Life of an English Market Town: Banbury 1844-1894

Locke, Rosalind (2019). Middle Class Women and the Public Life of an English Market Town: Banbury 1844-1894. Student dissertation for The Open University module A826 MA History part 2.

This dissertation was produced by a student studying the Open University postgraduate module A826 MA History part 2. The research showcased here achieved a distinction.
Please note that this student dissertation is made available in the format that it was submitted for examination, thus the author has not been able to correct errors and/or departures from academic standards in areas such as referencing.
Copyright resides with the author.


In the nineteenth century, Banbury was an archetypal market town whose primary function was to serve the needs of its own population and the rural hinterland that surrounded it. As such, the town supported many voluntary philanthropic and social organisations. This dissertation investigates the role of middle class women in this public life of the town during the second half of the century, when the town’s prosperity and influence was at its highest.

Recent historians have questioned the image of the nineteenth century ‘angel in the house’ and argued that some women were able to subvert this domestic ideology and other Victorian moral beliefs to create opportunities for greater roles in public life. The importance of religion as a means of justifying public roles for women has also been debated whilst women’s social networks have been seen as providing routes into voluntary organisations. Using four categories of voluntary organisations this dissertation examines what where the influences and motives behind middle class women’s involvement.

This dissertation concludes that whilst certain nineteenth century morals like self improvement were influential on Banbury’s middle class women’s activities, it was religion and the associated social and familial networks that had the greatest effect on the women at this time. Women took part in voluntary organisations alongside their male and female kin, as well as associates from church and chapel. During this period it became more socially acceptable for women to have an active role in Banbury’s public life although their actions remained within a socially acceptable feminine sphere.

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