A girls' classroom.
In Victorian times a girl had few choices when it came to aspirations. The ideal Victorian woman was one who was a housewife and mother–the ‘Angel in the House.’ They did not have the same rights as men–they couldn’t vote or hold a political office: to have a view in political matters was not seen as respectable. They couldn’t divorce their husbands for anything less than abuse or incest, whereas men could initiate divorce if their wife was adulterous. Employment opportunities were limited; an unmarried woman often entered employment as a governess on a low wage, a few women emigrated, but many working class women entered the world of prostitution.
A young Victorian girl from a wealthy family would be educated at home by a governess, or they may have gone to a boarding school; either way their education would have been limited as it focused on accomplishments to make them good wives. Girls from poor families would have worked from a very young age alongside the boys in coal mines or factories and it would have been a hard life:
I start work promptly at 5:00 in the morning and work all day till 9:00 at night. That’s 16 hours! We are not allowed to talk, sit or look out of the window whilst we work. The only day off from work I get is on Sundays, when we have to go to church. -Girl, aged 9
It wasn’t until 1870 that the Education Act was passed and schools were made available for all children aged 5-13. It was after this that some universities started to admit women and the prospects for women began to increase. The Victorian era gave way to the first wave of feminists that demanded improvements in the position of women and a fairer society. The girls of the Victorian age therefore became vital in the empowerment of women across the country and pushed Britain into the era of women’s suffrage.
Girl Museum Inc.