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“A Right Sort of Man”: Gender, Class Identity, and Social Reform in Late-Victorian Britain

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  04 January 2010

Sascha Auerbach*
University of Northern British Columbia


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Copyright © Donald Critchlow and Cambridge University Press 2010

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1. In 1763, Prussia, under Frederick II, became the first major European nation-state to make elementary education mandatory. The first U.S. state to adopt compulsory school attendance was Massachusetts, which did so under the leadership of Horace Mann in 1852. Austria introduced mandatory education in 1874. France adopted the policy in 1881 with the Jules Ferry Laws.

2. McCann, W. P., “Trade Unionists, Artisans, and the 1870 Education Act,” British Journal of Education Studies 18 (1970): 136–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3. The School Board for London was colloquially referred to in most correspondence as the “London School Board” or the “LSB.”

4. School Board Chronicle, 1 July 1871, 200 (hereafter Chronicle).

5. Ibid. The contested status of children’s labor was also central to debates over compulsory education. See Auerbach, Sascha, “‘Some Punishment Should Be Devised’: Parents, Children, and the State in Victorian London,” The Historian 71, no. 4 (November–December 2009).Google Scholar

6. Chronicle, 24 August 1872, 36. This wage scale put the average salary of male Visitors well above that of women teachers. At the beginning of the LSB’s tenure in London, female teachers were paid between £50 and £70 per annum (their male colleagues earned an average of £90–100 per annum). Chronicle, 23 March 1871, 167.

7. Gautrey, Thomas, “Lux Mihi Laus”: School Board Memories (London, 1937), 35Google Scholar. Minutes of Evidence Taken Before the Bye-Laws Committee With Reference to the Uniform Enforcement of the Bye-Laws in the Metropolis (hereafter Uniform Enforcement), SBL 129, 31 March 1874, 45 (London Metropolitan Archives).

8. The Cardiff School Board, for example, after hiring a female officer in 1881, concluded scarcely a year later that “the results did not justify the experiment,” and promptly released her. School Attendance Officer’s Gazette (aka School Attendance Gazette, hereafter Gazette), January 1903, 18.

9. Koven, Seth and Michel, Sonya, eds., Mothers of a New World: Maternalist Policies and the Origins of Welfare States (New York, 1993), 2Google Scholar.

10. Copelman, Dina, London’s Women Teachers: Gender, Class, and Feminism, 1870–1930 (London, 1996)Google Scholar; Pennybacker, Susan, A Vision for London, 1889–1914: Labour, Everyday Life, and the LCC Experiment (London, 1995)Google Scholar; Goodman, Joyce and Harrop, Sylvia, eds., Women, Educational Policy-Making, and Administration in England: Authoritative Women Since 1880 (London, 2000)CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Martin, Jane, Women and the Politics of Schooling in Victorian and Edwardian England (London, 1999).Google Scholar

11. In order to qualify for hiring, candidates had to take a competitive examination in math, writing, and clerical skills. O’Day, Rosemary and Englander, David, Mr. Charles Booth’s Inquiry: Life and Labour of the People of London Reconsidered (London, 1993), 43.Google Scholar

12. Although Victorian philanthropic organizations such as the Society for Relief of Distress (f. 1860) and the Charity Organization Society (f. 1869) were sometimes managed by men, the ranks of “visitors” who performed their daily work were overwhelmingly female, so much so that, by the early 1880s, the written instructions of the COS used the female pronoun exclusively when describing their work. Prochaska, F. K., Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England (Oxford, 1980), 108–11.Google Scholar

13. Lockwood, David, The Blackcoated Worker: A Study in Class Consciousness (London, 1966Google Scholar; rev. ed., Oxford, 1989); Crossick, Geoffrey, ed., The Lower Middle Class in Britain, 1870–1914 (London, 1977)Google Scholar; Anderson, Gregory, Victorian Clerks (Manchester, 1976)Google Scholar, and Pennybacker, A Vision for London.

14. Hammerton, A. James, “Pooterism or Partnership? Marriage and Masculine Identity in the Lower Middle Class, 1870–1920,” Journal of British Studies 38, no. 3 (July 1999): 293–94.CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed

15. Tosh, John, A Man’s Place: Masculinity and the Middle-Class Home (New Haven, 1999), 1.Google Scholar

16. Hammerton, “Pooterism or Partnership,” 303.

17. Ross, Ellen, Love and Toil: Motherhood in Outcast London (Oxford, 1994)Google Scholar; Davin, Anna, Growing Up Poor: Home, School, and Street in London, 1870–1914 (London, 1996).Google Scholar

18. Gazette, September 1901, 198.

19. Joyce, Patrick, Democratic Subjects: The Self and the Social in Nineteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1994), 16–17.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

20. Women comprised a small minority of the London School Board membership, but they were active in the committee that dealt with compulsory attendance. Annual Reports of the School Board for London, 1891 (London Metropolitan Archives).

21. School Board Chronicle, 15 June 1872, 174.

22. Uniform Enforcement, 31 March 1874, 45, SBL 129, 45.

23. Ibid.

24. Ibid.

25. Goodman, , Educational Policy-Making, 59Google Scholar; Minutes of the Bye-Laws Committee, 26 January 1881, SBL 139, Records of the London School Board.

26. Koven, Seth, “Borderlands: Women, Voluntary Action, and Child Welfare in Britain, 1840–1914,” in Mothers of a New World, ed. Koven, and Michel, , 106.Google Scholar

27. Vicinus, Martha, Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women, 1850–1920 (Chicago, 1985), 22Google Scholar; Ross, , Love and Toil, chap. 1.Google Scholar

28. Koven, “Borderlands,” 2.

29. Ibid., 3. See also Ross, , Love and Toil, 18–21Google Scholar; Behlmer, George, Friends of the Family: The English Home and Its Guardians (Stanford, 1998), 60–61.Google Scholar

30. Vicinus, , Independent Women, 212.Google Scholar

31. Koven, “Borderlands,” 103.

32. Uniform Enforcement, 45; Report of the Special Sub-Committee of the Bye-Laws Committee [of the LSB] on the Administration of the Bye-Laws, 1891, 122–29, SBL 1407 (hereafter RSSC).

33. RSSC, 96, 92.

34. Gazette, April 1900, 9.

35. Ibid.

36. Gazette, June 1902, 105; July 1900, 62.

37. Walkowitz, Judith, City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London (Chicago, 1992), 34.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

38. Vicinus, , Independent Women, 217Google Scholar; Behlmer, , Friends of the Family, 35.Google Scholar

39. Goodman, , Educational Policy-Making, 61Google Scholar; Behlmer, , Friends of the Family, 38Google Scholar; Lees, Lynn Hollen, The Solidarities of Strangers: The English Poor Laws and the People (Cambridge, 1998), 271.Google Scholar

40. Koven, and Michel, , Mothers of a New World, 9.Google Scholar

41. Behlmer, , Friends of the Family, 31.Google Scholar

42. There is a rich literature on the topic of respectability as both an observed quality and a performed identity. See Lacquer, Thomas, Religion and Respectability: Sunday Schools and Working-Class Culture, 1780–1850 (New Haven, 1976)Google Scholar; Bailey, Peter, “‘Will the Real Bill Banks Please Stand Up?’ Towards a Role Analysis of Mid-Victorian Working-Class Respectability,” Journal of Social History 12, no. 3 (1979): 336–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Ross, Ellen, “‘Not the Sort that Would Sit on the Doorstep’: Respectability in Pre–World War I London,” International Labour and Working-Class History 27 (Spring 1985): 39–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Joyce, Patrick, Visions of the People: Industrial England and the Question of Class, 1840–1914 (Cambridge, 1997).Google Scholar

43. Walkowitz, , City of Dreadful Delight, 34–35.Google Scholar

44. Life and Labour of the People of London, The Charles Booth Collection, 1885–1905, pt. 3: The Poverty Series, School Board Inquiry and House to House Visits, Group B, School Board Visitors’ Notebooks (British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics, London; Emory University Library, Atlanta).

45. Davin, , Growing Up Poor, 134.Google Scholar

46. Ross, “Not the Sort,” 48.

47. Koven, “Borderlands,” 99.

48. Behlmer, Friends of the Family, 39–40.

49. Ibid., 56–57.

50. Jones, Gareth Stedman, Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society (Oxford, 1971), 148.Google Scholar

51. Judith Walkowitz argues that establishing “psychological oppositions that distinguished the Self from the low-Other,” was a common dynamic among middle-class, male “urban explorers” such as Engels, Friedrich, Mayhew, Henry, Greenwood, James, Sims, George, and Booth, Charles. Walkowitz, City of Dreadful Delight, 32–33.Google Scholar

52. Behlmer, , Friends of the Family, 98.Google Scholar

53. Walkowitz, , City of Dreadful Delight, 34Google Scholar; Fried, Albert and Elman, Richard, eds., Charles Booth’s London (New York, 1968), 4.Google Scholar

54. Charles Booth in Fried and Elman, Charles Booth’s London, 292–93.

55. Ibid.

56. O’Day and Englander, Mr Charles Booth’s Inquiry, 51.

57. Walkowitz, , City of Dreadful Delight, 31.Google Scholar

58. Booth in Fried and Elman, Charles Booth’s London, 332.

59. Ibid.

60. RSSC, 126.

61. Rubinstein, David, School Attendance in London, 1870–1904: A Social History (Hull, 1969), 95–97.Google Scholar

62. Gazette, March 1901, 197; August 1902, 41.

63. Gazette, June 1901, 253.

64. Behlmer, , Friends of the Family, chap. 1Google Scholar; Prochaska, , Women and Philanthropy, chap. 4Google Scholar; Ross, , Love and Toil, chap. 1.Google Scholar

65. Gazette, April 1900, 5.

66. Ibid., 6.

67. Gazette, July 1902, 125.

68. See note 24 above.

69. Crossick, The Lower Middle Class, 28.

70. Gazette, June 1901, 253.

71. Gazette, December 1902, 225.

72. According to the article, Salter was no. 15 on the rolls of the Society.

73. Gazette, August 1902, 141.

74. Gazette, July 1902, 121.

75. Gazette, March 1901, 197, and May 1902, 81.

76. Gazette, July 1902, 121.

77. Gazette, September 1903, 145.

78. Gazette, September 1901, 217.

79. Ibid.

80. Gazette, March 1901, 197.

81. Ibid., 198.

82. Gazette, September 1903, 145.

83. For the prevalence of this argument among volunteer “visitors,” see Behlmer, Friends of the Family, chap. 1.

84. One notable exception was missionary societies, which encouraged both male and female participation.

85. Anon., Compulsory Education as Opposed to the Liberty of the Citizen (London, 1875), 7.Google Scholar See also Behlmer, , Friends of the Family, 22–24.Google Scholar

86. Pomeroy, Ernest, The Education Tyranny: The Education System Examined and Exposed, Together with Practical Aids for Persecuted Parents (London, 1909), 65.Google Scholar

87. Gazette, October 1901, 349.

88. Life and Labour of the People of London, The Charles Booth Collection, 1885–1905, pt. 3: The Poverty Series, School Board Inquiry and House to House Visits, Group B, School Board Visitors’ Notebooks, B39: Mr. Bruce, Shoreditch, 1887.

89. Gautrey, Lux Mihi Laus, 35.

90. Leeds Daily News excerpted in the Gazette, May 1903, 98.

91. First reported in Gautrey, Lux Mihi Laus, 35.

92. For the essential role of “respectability” in LMC identity, see Hugh McLeod, “White Collar Values and the Role of Religion,” in Crossick, ed.; Hammerton, “Pooterism or Partnership,” 307.

93. RSSC, 98.

94. Final Report of the School Board for London (London, 1904), 322.

95. Miles, Andrew, Social Mobility in Nineteenth- and Early Twentieth-Century England (New York, 1999), 113.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

96. Gazette, April 1901, 231.

97. See Steedman, Carolyn, Policing the Victorian Community: The Reformation of the English Provincial Police Forces, 1856–1880 (London, 1984)Google Scholar; Pennybacker, Vision for London.

98. School Board Chronicle, 7 September 1872, 100. There was no real consensus on the uniform issue. As one Visitor pointed out, being inconspicuous had its own advantages, “by wearing no uniform I am thereby enabled more easily to pick up truants” (Gazette, February 1901).

99. Gazette, July 1901, 296.

100. Gazette, March 1904, 215.

101. Gazette, June 1901, 276.

102. Uniform Enforcement, 45.