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A Mother's Role, a Daughter's Duty: Lady Blanche Balfour, Eleanor Sidgwick, and Feminist Perspectives


Addressing the Women's Institute in London on November 23, 1897, Eleanor Sidgwick, principal of Newnham College, Cambridge, observed that

There will always be gaps in domestic life which can best be filled by the unmarried girls and women of the family; help wanted in the care of old people and children and invalids, or in making the work of other members of the family go smoothly, to which a woman may well devote herself at some sacrifice of her own future—a sacrifice she will not regret. This kind of work can best be done by women, not only because they are generally better adapted to it, but because the sacrifice is not so clear nor so great in their case as it would generally be in that of a man. Only let the cost be counted and compared with the gain, and do not let us ask women to give up their chance of filling a more useful place in the world for the sake of employing them in trivial social duties from which they might be spared with little loss to anyone.

With these remarks, Mrs. Sidgwick joined the extended debate over the rights and duties of spinster daughters that the Victorian women's movement pursued for decades. For many participants, it was the preeminent issue that women had to confront if they were significantly to improve the condition of their lives.

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This list contains references from the content that can be linked to their source. For a full set of references and notes please see the PDF or HTML where available.

Joan W. Scott , “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” American Historical Review 91 (December 1986): 1055

Dea Birkett and Julie Wheelwright , “‘How Could She?’ Unpalatable Facts and Feminists' Heroines,” Gender and History 2 (Spring 1990):4957

Liz Stanley , “Moments of Writing: Is There a Feminist Auto/biography?Gender and History 2 (Spring 1990): 5867

Kali A. K. Israel , “Writing Inside the Kaleidoscope: Re-Representing Victorian Women Public Figures,” Gender and History 2 (Spring 1990): 41

Karen Offen , “Defining Feminism: A Comparative Historical Approach,” Signs 14 (Autumn 1988): 129–31

Dina M. Copelman , “Liberal Ideology, Sexual Difference, and the Lives of Women: Recent Works in British History,” Journal of Modern History 62 (June 1990): 316

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Journal of British Studies
  • ISSN: 0021-9371
  • EISSN: 1545-6986
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-british-studies
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