Iron Fist Beneath a Velvet Glove (1): Middle-Class Women’s Representations of Philanthropic and Voluntary Work Amongst the Poor, Working-Class, and Indigenous Peoples in the Nineteenth Century
This article, in an exploration of nineteenth-century British middle-class women’s textual representation of their voluntary public work, and of the marginalised poor, working-class, and colonised female social objects amongst whom it was conducted, applies Foucault’s theory of objectification, and Judith Butler’s work on `reverse discourse', to an analysis of the discourses of benevolence and of sisterhood employed by middle-class women at this time, in order to demonstrate the ambivalence of the policies they pursued; and, to suggest that what they engaged in was a subtextual strategy of bourgeois feminist empowerment. Furthermore, in order to extend established work in this field, by, for example, Burton and Mohanty, this article also examines the emergence of a discursive sense of resistance amongst the objects of benevolence, both to the interventionist policies of, and to textual representation by, middle-class British women, in order to develop our understanding of the investment which First-Wave middle-class feminists had, and were perceived to have in bourgeois and imperial technologies of power.
Kathryn Longden is in the final year of a PhD at Sheffield Hallam University. Her research interests include women’s organisations of the late nineteenth century, the history of the Women’s Co-operative Guild, and nineteenth-century textual representations of the relationship between middle-class women and `other` women and the conceptualisation of `sisterhood`.
A recent discussion of voluntary charitable activity suggests that its onset and history can be explained as much in terms of the motives of its agents as in the level of demand for relief [Jones, 1996:55]; and during the course of the nineteenth century the escalating level of voluntary work undertaken by middle-class women was undoubtedly a repercussion not only of economic and labour crises, but of the rise to power of the bourgeoisie, and of the intensification of a feminist consciousness amongst its women members.(2) Antoinette Burton proposes that `feminism(s) are and always will be as much quests for power as they are battles for rights` [1992:152], and this article addresses the connection between voluntary work and the desire of certain middle-class British women for an extension of their sphere of influence, and field of movement, beyond the parameters of the domestic realm.(3) More specifically, however, it critiques the ways in which these women framed their motives, and their ambition, in the language of benevolence and of sisterhood.
Of course, the objective of this article is not to question the very real achievements of middle-class women at this period, particularly those which were of benefit to working women in the industrial arena, and which are championed by Harrison [1996:219], Levine [1987:124-51], and Pennington and Westover [1989:111]. Nor do I overlook the point raised by Harrison [1996:219], Thom [1992:46], and Rendall [1987:27], that to a certain extent concessions ought to be made to middle-class women who were, after all, restricted by circumstance to employing the only language available to them at the contemporary moment; and that in so doing they fulfilled objectives that were practicable, in that their critique of women’s - albeit middle-class women’s - societal position was made possible by virtue of the fact that they did not transgress acceptable discursive parameters.
However, what this article hopes to demonstrate is that invariably, in middle-class women’s avowals of concern for, and investigations into, the predicament of the poor in both the metropolis and in the colonies, it is possible to detect a preoccupation less with the objects of their attention, than with their own subjectivity. Although this point has been raised in another context by Burton [1994:82-3], Mohanty [1988: 61-88], and Rouse [1998: 550-552], in relation to colonised women specifically, my aim is to broaden the field of discussion to incorporate an analysis of middle-class women’s representation of their relationship not only with colonised women, but with working-class women also; and, to investigate what the responses of the objects of benevolence can contribute to our understanding of this relationship. Furthermore, I utilise Foucault’s theory of objectification to demonstrate that the way in which these women represent their work, and their objectives, is suggestive of the `mechanics of power` through which he proposes that social subjects such as the poor, the criminal, the insane, and the colonised overseas, were objectified during this period - that is through a process of intervention, normalization, classification, and surveillance by agencies of power [Foucault 1975, 1984,1986].(4) And it is precisely as such agencies of power that I argue that certain middle-class women constituted themselves in pursuit of their own emancipatory agenda; yet, because this is framed within the parameters of the discourse of domestic and colonial ideology, it is achieved by means of disempowering the objects of their `benevolence`.(5)
Further, I will examine narratives in which middle-class women, by invoking notions of sisterhood in accounts of their work with poor and colonised women, appear to employ a `careless sense of universality` [Liddle and Rai 1993:18], in making the assumption that they were in a position to speak of, and for, women with whose experiences they were barely acquainted; but what is perhaps more prejudicial is that they fail to acknowledge their own investment in this assumption - the empowerment inherent in the process of representing `other` women [see Butler 1998:277]. Moreover, this eventuality results in the production of texts that can be interpreted as having instituted what Butler calls a `reverse discourse`, that `uncritically mimics the strategy of the oppressor` towards `other` women, `instead of offering a different set of terms` [1998:286]. Finally, I find that the responses of the poor and the colonised to middle-class women’s voluntary work bear further testimony to the fact that, at the contemporary moment, white middle-class women were perceived to be instrumental to bourgeois and imperial mechanics of power, and to act, and write, from a self-interested orientation.
Upper- and middle-class nineteenth-century women were encouraged to engage in philanthropy from an early age [Rowbotham 1989:93-8; Dyhouse 1986:39-40]; not only did it accord with religious teaching for women [Prochaska 1980:11-17], but it functioned to consolidate the family’s status within the community and wider society: the charitable act bespoke the power to bestow both time (and means), and was, therefore, concomitant with prestige [Waddington 1996:183; Gerard 1987:209]. Indeed, women’s engagement in philanthropic work was not perceived to represent a transgression of the private sphere; rather, as An Appeal to Women (1890) demonstrates, it was constituted as a natural extension of women’s domestic duties, by virtue of the fact that it was seen to be both moral and spiritual in orientation:
`Women: your sphere is your home! Yes, but you have a double duty. First of all to your family, and secondly to the wider family, the world of human beings outside, and you fail in one of your most solemn obligations, if you devote yourself solely to your own home and your own children, unmindful of the fact that thousands of poor men and women […] [and] little children are […] uncared for, untaught, unthought of, in slums and alleys or the streets of our great cities`[Walker 1987: 174].(6) Furthermore, a philanthropic occupation offered no challenge to domestic ideology precisely because it was voluntary, and therefore did not carry the taint of remuneration [Levine 1987:85]
Hence, it is not difficult to understand why so many middle-class women embraced this activity: it provided them with an unsupervised, active outlet in the public sphere, with no accompanying compromise to either their own or their family’s status and integrity. Indeed, a reading of accounts by middle-class women demonstrates that benevolence towards the `poor men, women and children` was but a marginal factor in their preoccupation with philanthropy; rather, they dwell on the opportunities it accorded them to alleviate ennui: `my father allowed us to have a little school for poor children, chiefly for [our] […] pleasure, as [w]e could enter into so few amusements`[Davidoff and Hall 1987:431](7). Indeed, in Bessie Rayner Parkes’s 1859 essay on charity, it is middle-class women and not the poor who are constituted as objects of pity, in that they are figured as victims not merely of the `monotony of existence` and `an indescribable ennui`, but of `adverse circumstances`, and degradation, resultant to having been deprived of the `inalienable rights of humanity` by men and the `citadel of prejudice` [Bauer and Ritt 1979:83]. In fact, it is only at the point at which the essay addresses the means by which middle-class women might be liberated from this predicament, that the poor enter the discussion at all. After all, reflects Rayner Parkes, `[t]he poor we have always with us`, therefore why not let middle-class women pursue the `one path of exertion open` to them, namely charity, amongst these ubiquitous creatures. And the essay reaches its crescendo with a declaration framed in terminology which is suggestive of Foucauldian mechanics of power: `[Charity] is susceptible of a peculiar degree of improvement by women […] It is in the power of women to become invincible agents in the work of charity. The very attributes of the feminine nature are of essential value in such a cause` [Bauer and Ritt 1979:83, my emphasis].(8)
Furthermore, as psychology associates the charitable act with ambition, egotism, a desire for deference, and `power-seeking [in] an attempt to create obligations to oneself which will enable one to exercise control over people` [Whitaker 1974:48-50], so in the case of nineteenth-century women it is not only individual ambition that manifests itself as a motive - Florence Nightingale was accused by her sister of pursuing acclaim and sycophancy under the cover of compassion [Parker 1989:75] - but renown for the benevolent organisations to which they belong. Indeed, in 1897, Frances Willard, President of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, heralded a tragedy in Armenia, the victims of which had been offered assistance by Union missionaries, as having presented women with an opportunity to bring `credit to themselves`, by virtue of their `business capacity [having] been attested on a large scale by the administration of funds and the reorganization of human chaos` [Willard, cited in Tyrrell 1991: 145]. Most significantly, however, Willard assured her missionaries that their names – and the Union itself by association - had been `burned into the memory of their proud countrymen and forever enshrined in the hearts of Armenia’s hapless daughters` [Willard, cited in Tyrrell 1991: 145].
The quest for authority also emerges as a telling factor in the motives of these women: the advice which Octavia Hill elects to bestow on her fellow female workers amongst East End dwellings repeatedly focuses on how to exercise it; and Hill is evidently conscious of the fact that this power positioning is facilitated by the nature of voluntary work itself – in the form of tenancy management, rent collecting, and recreational organisation - amongst those who are perceived to be in no position to resist it. `[Be] QUEENS as well as FRIENDS`[original emphasis] [Lewis 1995:51](9) to the poor, advises Hill; `Queens`, moreover, who must `be severe. There is much of rebuke and repression needed`, which ought `never to be relaxed` [1869:33]. And when reflecting upon her role amongst the poor, Hill conceives of herself as `somewhat like an officer at the head of a well-controlled little regiment, or […] like a country proprietor with a moderate number of well-ordered tenants` [1869:34]; tenants, moreover, whom she identifies as `my people` [ibid: 34, my emphasis]; whose residential areas represent: `Truly a wild, lawless, desolate little kingdom to come to rule over. On what principles was I to rule these people? […] firstly, to demand a strict fulfilment of their duties to me` [1871:41].
However, it was not simply voluntary work per se which occupied a central position in middle-class women’s conceptions of the role of charity in their expanding horizons, but the environment in which it took place: the public sphere, which is frequently embodied in women’s writing from the late nineteenth century, not least the accounts with which I am concerned, in images of the burgeoning metropolis.(10) Indeed, the occupation of urban space by middle-class women was a central motif in both feminist texts – in 1892 Mona Caird demanded access to it as a right for all middle-class daughters (11) - and in writing by men such as James and Gissing, who were increasingly preoccupied with the ramifications of this access. [Ledger 1997:157-72] Of course, in the midst of anxieties about urban unrest and mob rule, and heightening eugenicist concerns at this period, anxieties which were compounded by the fact that all groupings within the working class were constituted as one homogenous faction, the residuum, it was not only male-authored fiction, but journalism, social investigations, and official reports instigated by the ruling class, that turned their gaze towards the streets of London [Bradbury 1971:47-55; Himmelfarb 1971:313-8; Stedman Jones 1971, 1984:127-51; Pick 1989:203-16]. More specifically, however, as Elizabeth Wilson observes, these factions felt threatened by the anonymity they experienced amongst urban crowds, where `distinctions of rank of every kind were blurred` [1992:92]; more keenly felt, however, was the danger to middle-class women’s respectability;(12) after all, in such an environment, (respectable) women walking the streets merged with eponymous street walkers, and `[t]he very presence of unattended – unowned – women constituted a threat both to male power and to male frailty`.(13)
In the case of middle-class women, however, it is these male anxieties which appear to endow the streets with such allure; indeed, in Gissing’s In the Year of Jubilee, the middle-class protagonist’s entry into the metropolis is marked by the following suggestive passage: Nancy Lord `resolved to taste independence, to mingle with the limitless crowd as one of its units, borne in whatever direction. That song of the streets pleased her, made sympathetic appeal to her; she would have liked to join in it [...] Nancy [...] wish[ed] the throng would sweep her away […] She […] forgot her identity, lost sight of herself as an individual. Her blood was heated by close air and physical contact. She did not think, and her emotions differed little from those of any shop-girl let loose. The "culture", to which she laid claim, evanesced in this atmosphere of exhalations. Could she have seen her face, its look of vulgar abandonment would have horrified her` [1894, 1994:54, 58].
Indeed, as this extract demonstrates, a further component to the allure of the streets was the opportunity they accorded to middle-class women to experience diversion, and to temporarily unshackle themselves of middle-class strictures; not only amongst the urban crowd, but by means of association with working-class women, and by vicariously inhabiting working-class experience, both of which were achieved through the vehicle of voluntary work and social investigation.(14) This is demonstrated in an account from 1915 by Mary Simmons of her time as a voluntary worker in London’s East End, in which she draws attention to the emancipation inherent in being precluded from observing middle-class codes of dress and deportment: she confesses to having `revel[ed] in a picturesque lack of respectability, and a freedom in being out of doors without having dressed for the part which is to me so congenial` [Simmons, cited in Vicinus 1985:230].(15) Olive Schreiner and Annie Besant, amongst others, similarly discarded the codified style of the middle class. And the self-interested motives of such women were evidently not lost upon the novelist Edith Wharton; in The House of Mirth, we are told that the middle-class Lily Bart is actuated towards association with working-class girls at a New York benevolent club established by her philanthropic friend Gerty Farish, not by `those sudden shocks of pity that sometimes […] [make] all human suffering so near and insistent`, but by her search for rejuvenation from a stultifying existence, through the gratification she experiences at the `admiration and interest her presence excited among the tired workers at the club`, and by the momentary sensation of being `drawn out of herself by the interest of her direct relation with a world so unlike her own` [1905, 1993:151]; as Wharton allows Gerty bitterly to reflect of her friend: `When had Lily ever really felt, or pitied, or understood? All she wanted was the taste of new experiences: she seemed like some cruel creature experimenting in a laboratory` [ibid:162]. (16)
Moreover, although the city may also have been opened up to middle-class women through the development of the West End and its new retail experiences, it was nonetheless, as Vicinus observes, only in the slums that they were granted true `spatial freedom`, `away from men’s eyes` [1985:220]. (17) It was in this territory, then, as a result of being invisible to observation by their peers, and yet observant and detached from its inhabitants, that they felt empowered by a sense of occupation or possession, which empowerment was also facilitated by their work, which unlike other occupations, had no `pre-set [male] pattern` [Walton 1975:14]; and of which they were able, as a consequence, to make claim to as a field of female expertise.
As we have seen, to a great extent domestic ideology enabled middle-class women to access the (voluntary) working arena; more specifically, however, they turned its discourse to account in order to consolidate their newly-located position and to ward off intervention by the state in this field [Summers 1979:52-7]. This was achieved by means of identifying work amongst the poor and working classes as especially suited to female capabilities; but a reading of accounts by these women is also suggestive of the Foucauldian process of `objectification`; that is to say, the purchase of agency under cover of benevolence towards the objects of their attention, and by playing upon contemporary anxieties concerning the residuum. (18)
Hence, middle-class women frequently identify material and political uses in their voluntary work; firstly, as McClintock observes of colonial discourse that `[t]echnologies of representation are needed to […] assemble […] urban space into a geography of power and containment` [1995:119-20], so I find that middle-class women positioned themselves as the most efficient means of regulating the poor in slum areas: in Letters from a Settlement (1909), Alice Hodson observes of the London settlement worker: `[H]ow well she […] fill[s] the post! She c[an] teach the natives all things necessary for their moral and physical well-being […] She […] would soon make the place into a self-respecting well-doing colony` [Vicinus 1985:219]. Indeed, a report from the `Women’s University Association for Work in Poorer Districts of London` assures its patrons that its main prerogative is not `to diminish present suffering` amongst the poor, but rather `to raise character`, not least in order that they might `raise the future quality of the population` [1888:8]; and it elucidates the agenda behind the organisation’s particular work with poor women: `It is the sisters and the wives and the mothers who will mainly form the character of the generation that is to come. Let us look to the women, the rest can take care of itself`[ibid:11]. Furthermore, the University women position themselves as the `only sustained influence for good under which they [the daughters of the poor] can be brought`; upon which influence the development of these girls into `God-fearing, respectable women`, is entirely dependent; without middle-class female intervention, it is suggested, they would evolve into `drunken slatterns, or worse still, a disgrace to their sex and their country` [ibid:31]. And in 1800 Teresa Mulally asserted that without the instruction she provided in the local charitable school, its inhabitants would `grow up in such habits of ignorance, idleness and vice, as renders them for ever after not only useless, but highly pernicious to themselves and the public` [Mulally, cited in Raughter 1997:472]. Similarly, middle-class women’s endeavours amongst Indian women were figured as crucial to Britain’s Imperial well-being; indeed, Liddle and Rai [1998:499], Alessio [1997:265], Tyrrell [1991:217-19], and Burton [1992:139-42], all read these women as having had an investment in the Imperialist project itself: namely the opportunity it presented for an extension of their influence and empowerment. And this investment is made manifest in Mrs Bayle Bernard’s 1867 article upon `The Position of Women in India` for The EnglishWoman’s Review, in which she advises female missionaries:`determine never to rest until [you] have raised [you]r Eastern sisters to [you]r own level; and then may the women of India at last attain a position honourable to themselves and to England, instead of, as is now so generally the case, filling one […] with feelings of sorrow and shame` [Burton 1992:146]
It is, moreover, possible to detect a further agenda behind this moral inculcation of `other` girls and women: the provision of a greater and more efficient supply of domestic servants, both in Britain and in its colonies, for the class to which these philanthropic women belong [see Macdonald 1983:72-3; Nestor 1982:104; Hunt 1990:31-2]; indeed, the 1893 report of the `Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants` is eager to observe that although its aim might be to smooth the lot of the servant, this is in no way `in antagonism to service` itself [1893:9] Which in fact soon becomes clear in the Association’s exhortations to its female workforce to instruct young servants that: `[t]o the wise the fetters of authority are no longer regarded as chains; they are as the reins of the horse, which finds in them support as well as guidance` [ibid: 10]; in addition to the fact that `self-repression` is an `active power for good` [11-12], `rebellion` the `sin of witchcraft`  and `service and menial work` the `dignity to which they are called` .
Moreover, Josephine Butler, in her article `Home`, positions the `educating process[es]` which middle-class philanthropic women instil amongst the poor as yet more influential; they are, she argues, far more effective than any mode of intervention by the state or medical men, in that by means of close social intercourse, they regulate and quell that which these two agencies fail to address: `that terrible thing, the human will, which if too long ignored […] reasserts itself […] in a resistance which will bring evil, not only on the imposers of the yoke, but on many besides`[1900:270, original emphasis]. And Octavia Hill constitutes her female workforce as the agents through which the poor are distracted from their `lawless sprees` and `amusements […] liable to abuse`, by means of their benevolent presence, and their organisation of recreational activities, which are seen to inspire in the poor a `sense of honour and respect` [1869:30]. And a similar agenda evidently lay behind middle-class women’s visits to the homes of the poor: in The Cottage and Its Visitor (1860), Maria Louisa Charlesworth expresses the hope that by this means `class tension and unrest` might be alleviated by `inspir[ing] the poor with confidence in the sympathy of the rich` [Charlesworth, cited in Gerard 1987:189].
The most significant issue to arise from the textual dynamics demonstrated in the above examples, however, is not the actual act of establishing agency for themselves by middle-class women, but the ramifications of the process through which it is achieved: the instigation of a `reverse discourse`, which disempowers the objects of and for whom the middle-class writers speak.(19)
Hence, while middle-class women claim for themselves the right to transgress the boundaries of the private, domestic sphere, by undertaking unsupervised public voluntary work, that very work not only incorporates the surveillance of other classes of women, but the texts they produce more often than not advocate increased regulation and repression of these women. The narratives produced by social purity campaigners concerning prostitutes after the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts in 1886 is one example, of which Walkowitz observes that although they `imposed a disciplinary regime on working-class women, [they] simultaneously stimulated new "possibilities of thought" among middle-class women, inciting them to explore their own sexual subjectivity` [1992:131-2; see also Tyrrell 1991:210; Vicinus 1985:76]. Furthermore, middle-class women repeatedly promote the adoption of the domestic ideal by working-class wives and mothers [Wilson 1991:32]; as well as the clearance of slum streets of poor and working-class children, particularly girls, into organised societies, institutions, and domestic service [Vicinus 1985:220-1]. Indeed, in Ella Hepworth Dixon’s The Story of a Modern Woman, the middle-class philanthropist Alison Ives thinks nothing of coercing her pregnant working-class charge, Evelina, into marriage, while herself shunning the domestic role (and proposals of marriage) in favour of voluntary public work and perambulations around the city [1894, 1990:117-20]. These eventualities all demonstrate middle-class women’s purchase of Foucauldian `subjectification` at the expense of the `objectification` of other classes of women;(20) not least because, as Hannam points out, it was the work of female domestic servants in middle-class women’s homes that in part facilitated the latter’s opportunity to digress from their domestic role [1987:228; see also Pennington and Westover 1989:8].
Of course, a further component of this `reverse discourse` is the act of representation itself: Butler argues that a feminist text which assumes that it is able to represent `a subject that it itself constructs`, actually undermines its `feminist goals` `by refusing to take account of the constitutive powers of [its] own representational claims` [1998:277]. And I argue that in the case of narratives by nineteenth-century middle-class women, any claims to solidarity with `other` women are undermined by the act of constituting female `sisters` from other cultures, and the language in which they are constituted.
Sisterhood amongst women had a religious orientation in the nineteenth century, particularly in the context of women’s voluntary and missionary work: women were deemed to be united in their service of the Lord [Tyrrell 1991:123]; however, this concept came to be extended across cultural barriers towards the objects of that service, and was incorporated into secular women’s philanthropic organisations. Yet, when working-class and colonised women figure in the narratives of these organisations, their relationship to middle-class women is not framed in the image of egalitarianism one would associate with sisterhood, but rather in that of subordination: `We are profoundly conscious` solemnly declared Mrs Booth in her 1891 address to the Women’s Conference of Associated Workers for Great Britain and Ireland, `that we are our sisters’ keepers`[1891:211]. Indeed, this conception of sisterhood is, as Rowbotham [1998:248] observes, `profoundly hierarchical`, and it would be more accurate now to describe middle-class women’s constitution of their relationship to other women as predicated on the model of mother-daughter. For example, in 1884, one writer for the Journal of the Women’s Protective and Provident League, when discussing the working-class sisters to whom her organisation directs assistance, positions them as both subordinate and passive: they `can do nothing of themselves; […] they [a]re an inferior order of beings`, with an `incapacity for combination` and insufficient `self-reliance, or courage` to instigate the action necessary to their cause; however, women League members are to be congratulated for their intervention, and their endeavours to arouse their working sisters `to a sense of their duty to themselves […] to their class [and] […] the duty of effort and of self-sacrifice for one another`[1884:62-3]. Similarly, and more overtly, in 1890 Frances Power Cobbe, in her lecture `Women’s Duty to Women`, after contemplating working-class men, whom she categorises as `harmless brutes` who are well-equipped to negotiate adverse circumstances, and hence in no need of assistance from this particular organisation, then turns her attention to working-class women; these are, by contrast, `the weakest, the poorest` factions of society, upon whom it behoves her middle-class sisters to `save and shield them as best you can, even as the mother bird will shelter and fight for her little helpless fledglings` [1890:6].(21)
And colonised women fare somewhat worse than their working-class British counterparts in their discursive treatment by British middle-class women; not only are they comparably infantilized, but are rendered analogous to dumb animals in Josephine Butler’s 1898 representation:`the poor Indian women are indeed […] helpless, voiceless, hopeless. Their helplessness appeals to the heart, somewhat in the same way in which […] that complete helplessness of the subjected animal appeals to our hearts […]`[Ledger 1997:67].(22)
Which is doubly pernicious in view of the fact that according to Burton, Butler, like many of her cohorts, rarely met with Indian women first hand, but rather `relied on the accounts of agents they sent to India to observe conditions` [1992:142]. Yet, if middle-class women were conscious of the power implications of their representation of colonised and working-class sisters, then they neglected to acknowledge it.(23) However, perhaps the frequency with which these images of oppressed and victimised females occurs in narratives by women eager to accelerate the progress of their own emancipation, is confirmation of a covert agenda [see also Haggis 1998:186; Burton 1992:150].
In fact, there is evidence to suggest that these oppressed factions both suspected, and accused, middle-class women of such an agenda; and I would now finally like to address responses by the poor and the colonised to voluntary work by the women under discussion, and what they can contribute to our evaluation of nineteenth-century middle-class women’s representations of themselves, and the objects of their endeavours. There are frequent testimonies to working-class hostility to the intrusion of middle-class women into their tenements and their homes; on the grounds either that inexperienced single women presumed that they were in a position to advise wives and mothers upon how to conduct their day-to-day lives [Walkowitz 1992:58]; or, because they were seen to presume that they might treat the working-class in a manner in which they would not presume to treat their peers: `People dislike that sort of interference`, complained a contemporary tenement dweller of sanitary inspection by middle-class women, `because it’s applied to one class and not to another` [cited in Lewis 1986, 1989:112].
Indeed, accusations of `interference` were common; one example of such appears in a letter Helen Bosanquet received in response to the women’s work she organised in the East End; Bosanquet dismisses its critique of the work she prided herself upon – which in her eyes gelled `all classes together in the bonds of mutual help and good will` - as `ingenious caricature` [Bosanquet 1914, 1973:53, 125]; and yet the language employed in this letter is interesting in that it accuses Bosanquet et al of engaging in what the Foucauldian reader would identify as `objectification`. The writer begins by questioning whether Bosanquet’s funds are used to assist the poor, or whether, as the writer suspects, they are employed towards maintaining a `nice snuggery of secretaries [and] clerks, with easy work`[ibid:125]; more significantly, however, her workers are condemned as `an army of scouts, spies and private informers, whose interest and aim is to run down characters […] in the poor and struggling classes`[ibid:125].
A more pointed, though more subtle, critique of what to the working class appeared to be unnecessary intrusion into their lives on the part of middle-class women, occurs, however, in the following `anecdote`, `Why She Asked`, from the monthly Journal for the working-class Manchester and Salford Co-operative Society:
`Now and then a humble member of the "submerged tenth" gets in, perhaps unconsciously, a sly hit at the well-meaning people who undertake to play the role of philanthropists and social reformers. A little girl from a humble home was invited with others not very long ago to a charity dinner given at a great house in the West End of London. In the course of the meal the little maiden startled her hostess by solemnly propounding the query – "Does your husband drink?" "Why, no," replied the astonished mistress of the house. After a moment’s pause the miniature querist proceeded with the equally bewildering questions – "How much coal do you burn? What is your husband’s salary? Has your husband any bad habits? Does your son go to work?" By this time the presiding genius of the table felt called upon to ask her humble guest what made her put such strange questions. "Well," was the innocent reply, "mother told me to behave like a lady, and when ladies come to call at our house they always ask my mother those questions" [1898:149].
Occasionally, however, working-class resistance to middle-class women’s projects assumed a more tangible form: for example, some district visitors found themselves physically escorted from working-class homes by irate husbands, who deemed it an `affront to [their] dignity that anyone should be able to enter [their] house and "snoop" around without […] permission` [cited in Chinn 1988:82; see also Gerard 1987:204; Rowbotham 1973, 1977:55]. And when the `Metropolitan Public Garden, Boulevard, and Playground Association`, in which Octavia Hill was active, sent women to examine areas of land in poor areas for possible transformation into spaces of recreation, the local inhabitants who utilised this land for allotments, hurled mud as well as abuse at them; and subsequently vandalised the facilities on offer in the completed project [Malchow 1985:122-3].
Finally, there exists some documentary evidence of examples of resistance by working-class and colonial women to intervention by their middle-class `sisters`, and to representation at their hands. For example, when in 1893 the Manchester branch of the middle-class British Women’s Temperance Association attempted to affiliate with a local organisation of women factory workers, they received a polite but firm rebuff: `There is too little real sympathy between these good women [the BWTA] and us girls for them and us to get on well in the relation proposed` [cited in Tyrrell 1991:69]. Furthermore, at a slightly later period, as Mrinalini Sinha illustrates, Indian women who were prominent in the national movement for women’s rights voiced their fierce resentment of what they perceived to be British middle-class women’s self-orientated intervention, or what Sarojini Naidu, in a lecture on `Ideals of Indian Womanhood` in 1928, dismissed as exploitation `in the guise of friendship`: `We do not ask any friend or foe in the guise of a friend, to come merely to exploit us while they pretend to interpret, succour and solace our womanhood` [Sinha 1996: 490]. Furthermore, a year later, Dhanvanthi Rama Rau attacked the right of the white, middle-class, Eleanor Rathbone to hold a conference in London on `Women in India`, on the grounds that all the contributors were from the same cultural background as Rathbone, and had little direct experience of India or its female inhabitants; such presumption, claimed Rau in a letter to The Times that year, instigated a `racial cleavage`, to which accusation she added her intoleration of `patronage or philanthropy` [Sinha 1996: 493].
Thus, it is necessary to question the subtext of nineteenth-century middle-class women’s representations of their voluntary work; the impression which I suggest that they convey of themselves and of other oppressed classes of women, by means of their invocation and manipulation of the language of domesticity, sisterhood, and colonialism, is suggestive of a discursive strategy of empowerment. Of course, I acknowledge that the conscious intentions of many middle-class women towards those whom they perceived to be both passive and vulnerable, were well-intentioned, and at times well-directed; and I would not by any means wish to detract from their endeavours to transgress the acceptable parameters of their experience. Nevertheless, my point is: while they may have gestured towards solidarity with women from other classes and cultures, there exists in the narratives they produced a discrepancy, or a gulf, between the surface gesture and the subtextual dynamics; that is to say that I detect a conflict between the protestations of benevolence and empathy, and the underlying agenda. And it is the working-class and colonial consciousness of this discrepancy, this suspicion that beneath the velvet glove lurks an iron fist, which warrants further investigation.
Manuscript and Archival Material
Millicent Garrett Fawcett Papers, Manchester Central Library:
Josephine Butler  `Home`, pp. 266-73, in The Storm Bell, 20 (M50/5/13/2).
Frances Power Cobbe  `Women’s Duty to Women`, pp. 1-7, in Report of the Conference of Women Workers, Birmingham (M50/6/5).
`First Annual Report of the Women’s University Association for Work in the Poorer Districts of London` , pp. 1-32 (M50/5/10/2).
`Report of the Metropolitan Association for Befriending Young Servants` , pp. 6-13 (M50/5/7/4).
`Report of the Women’s Conference of Associated Workers for Great Britain and Ireland` , pp. 209-15 (M50/6/6/2).
Women’s Union Journal: The Organ of the Women’s Protective and Provident League , pp. 1-75 (M50/5/23/2).
Newspapers and Periodicals
Mona Caird  `A Defence of the So-Called "Wild Women"`, pp. 811-29, in Nineteenth Century, 31.
`Why She Asked` , p. 149, in Manchester and Salford Co-operative Monthly Herald, 119.
Books and Articles
Alessio, Dominic David  `Domesticating "the Heart of the Wild": Female Personifications of the Colonies, 1886-1940`, pp. 239-69, in Women’s History Review, 6/2.
Bauer, Carol, and Lawrence Ritt [ed] Free and Ennobled: Source Readings in the Development of Victorian Feminism, Pergamon, Oxford and New York.
Bosanquet, Helen [1914,1973] Social Work in London 1869-1912, Harvester, Brighton.
Bradbury, Malcolm  The Social Context of Modern English Literature, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.
Brown, Elsa Barkley  `"What Has Happened Here": The Politics of Difference in Women’s History and Feminist Politics`, pp. 272-87, in The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, Routledge, London.
Burman, Sandra [ed]  Fit Work for Women, Croom Helm, London.
Burton, Antoinette  `The White Woman’s Burden: British Feminists and "The Indian Woman", 1865-1915`, pp. 137-57, in Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Burton, Antoinette  Burdens of History: British Feminists, Indian Women and Imperial Culture 1865-1915, pp. 63-96, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill.
Butler, Judith  `Subjects of Sex/Gender/Desire`, pp. 273-91, in Feminism and Politics, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.
Campbell, Kate [ed]  Critical Feminism: Argument in the Disciplines, Open University Press, Buckingham and Philadelphia.
Chaudhuri, Nupur, and Margaret Strobel [ed]  Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Chinn, Carl  They Worked All Their Lives: Women of the Urban Poor in England, 1880-1939, Manchester University Press, Manchester and New York.
Connell, Eileen  `Edith Wharton Joins the Working Classes: The House of Mirth and the New York City Working Girls’ Clubs`, pp. 557-604, in Women’s Studies, 26/6.
Daunton, Martin [ed]  Charity, Self-Interest and Welfare in the English Past, UCL Press, London.
Davidoff, Leonore, and Catherine Hall  Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850, Hutchinson, London.
Dixon, Ella Hepworth [1894, 1990] The Story of a Modern Woman, Merlin, London.
Dyhouse, Carol [1986, 1989] `Mothers and Daughters in the Middle-Class Home, c.1870-1914`, pp. 27-47, in Labour and Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family, 1850-1940, Basil Blackwell, Oxford and New York.
Englander, David, and Rosemary O’Day [ed]  Retrieved Riches: Social Investigation in Britain 1840-1914, Scolar Press, Aldershot.
Feurer, Rosemary  `The Meaning of "Sisterhood": The British Women’s Movement and Protective Labo[u]r Legislation, 1870-1900`, pp. 233-260, in Victorian Studies, 31/2.
Fhlathúin, Máire ní [ed]  The Legacy of Colonialism, Galway University Press, Galway.
Foucault, Michel [1980, 1984, 1986] `The Politics of Health in the Eighteenth Century`, pp. 273-89, in The Foucault Reader, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Foucault, Michel [1976, 1990] The History of Sexuality Volume One, tr. Robert Hurley, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Foucault, Michel [1975, 1984, 1986] `The Means of Correct Training`, pp. 188-205, in The Foucault Reader, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Gerard, Jessica  `Lady Bountiful: Women of the Landed Classes and Rural Philanthropy`, pp. 183-209, in Victorian Studies, 30/2.
Gissing, George [1894, 1994] In the Year of Jubilee, ed. Paul Delany, Dent, London.
Haggis, Jane  `"A Heart that has felt the Love of God and Longs for Others to Know it": Conventions of Gender, Tensions of Self and Constructions of Difference in Offering to be a Lady Missionary`, pp. 171-92, in Women’s History Review, 7/2.
Hannam, June  `"In the Comradeship of the Sexes Lies the Hope of Progress and Social Regeneration": Women in the West Riding ILP, c.1890-1914`, pp. 214-38, in Equal or Different: Women’s Politics 1800-1914, Basil Blackwell, Oxford and New York.
Harrison, Barbara  Not Only the "Dangerous Trades": Women’s Work and Health in Britain, 1880-1914, Taylor and Francis, London.
Hill, Octavia [1866, 1970] `Cottage Property in London`, pp. 17-24, in Homes of the London Poor and the Bitter Cry of Outcast London, Frank Cass, London.
Hill, Octavia [1869, 1970] `Four Years’ Management of a London Court`, pp. 25-37, in Homes of the London Poor and the Bitter Cry of Outcast London, Frank Cass, London.
Hill, Octavia [1871, 1970] `Landlords and Tenants in London`, pp. 38-53, in Homes of the London Poor and the Bitter Cry of Outcast London, Frank Cass, London.
Himmelfarb, Gertrude  `Mayhew’s Poor: A Problem of Identity`, pp. 307-20, in Victorian Studies, 14/3.
Hunt, Margaret  `The De-Eroticization of Women’s Liberation: Social Purity Movements and the Revolutionary Feminism of Sheila Jeffreys`, pp. 23-46, in Feminist Review, 34.
Jalland, Pat [1986, 1988] Women, Marriage and Politics 1860-1914, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Jones, Colin  `Some Recent Trends in the History of Charity`, pp. 51-63, in Charity, Self-Interest and Welfare in the English Past, UCL Press, London.
Jones, Gareth Stedman [1971, 1984] Outcast London: A Study in the Relationship Between Classes in Victorian Society, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Kennedy, Mary, Cathy Lubelska, and Val Walsh [ed]  Making Connections: Women’s Studies, Women’s Movements, Women’s Lives, Taylor and Francis, London.
Ledger, Sally  The New Woman: Fiction and Feminism at the Fin De Siècle, Manchester University Press, Manchester.
Levine, Philippa  Victorian Feminism 1850-1900, Hutchinson, London.
Lewis, Jane  `Social facts, Social Theory and Social Change: The Ideas of Booth in Relation to those of Beatrice Webb, Octavia Hill and Helen Bosanquet`, pp. 49-66, in Retrieved Riches: Social Investigation in Britain 1840-1914, Scolar Press, Aldershot.
Lewis, Jane  Women and Social Action in Victorian and Edwardian England, Edward Elgar, Aldershot.
Lewis, Jane [ed] [1986, 1989] Labour and Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family, 1850-1940, Basil Blackwell, Oxford and New York.
Lewis, Jane [1986, 1989] `The Working-Class Wife and Mother and State Intervention, 1870-1918`, pp. 99-120, in Labour and Love: Women’s Experience of Home and Family, 1850-1940, Basil Blackwell, Oxford and New York.
Liddle, Joanna, and Shirin Rai  `Feminism, Imperialism and Orientalism: The Challenge of the "Indian Woman"`, pp. 495-520, in Women’s History Review, 7/4.
Liddle, Joanna, and Shirin Rai  `Between Feminism and Orientalism`, pp. 11-23, in Making Connections: Women’s Studies, Women’s Movements, Women’s Lives, Taylor and Francis, London.
London Feminist History Group  The Sexual Dynamics of History: Men’s Power, Women’s Resistance, Pluto, London.
McClintock, Anne  Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context, Routledge, London and New York.
Macdonald, Charlotte J.  `Ellen Silk and Her Sisters: Female Emigration to the New World`, pp. 66-86, in The Sexual Dynamics of History: Men’s Power, Women’s Resistance, Pluto, London.
Malchow, H.L.  `Public Gardens and Social Action in Late Victorian London`, pp. 97-124, in Victorian Studies, 29/1.
Mills, Sara  `Gender and Colonial Space`, pp. 125-47, in Gender, Place and Culture, 3/2.
Mohanty, Chandra  `Under Western Eyes: Feminist Scholarship and Colonial Discourses`, pp. 61-88, in Feminist Review, 30.
Nestor, Pauline A.  `A New Departure in Women’s Publishing: The English Woman’s Journal and The Victoria Magazine`, pp. 93-106, in Victorian Periodicals Review, 15/3.
Nicholson, Linda [ed]  The Second Wave: A Reader in Feminist Theory, Routledge, London and New York.
Nord, Deborah Epstein  Walking the Victorian Streets: Women, Representation and the City, Cornell University Press, New York and London.
Parker, Julia  Women and Welfare: Ten Victorian Women in Public Social Service, Macmillan, Basingstoke and London.
Parkes, Bessie Rayner [1859, 1979] `Charity as a Portion of the Public Vocation of Woman`, pp. 82-4, in Free and Ennobled: Source Readings in the Development of Victorian Feminism, Pergamon, Oxford and New York.
Pennington, Shelley, and Belinda Westover  A Hidden Workforce: Homeworkers in England, 1850-1985, Macmillan, Basingstoke and London.
Phillips, Anne [ed]  Feminism and Politics, Oxford University Press, Oxford and New York.
Pick, Daniel  Faces of Degeneration: A European Disorder, c.1848-c.1918, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
Prochaska, F.K.  Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-Century England, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Rabinow, Paul [ed] [1984, 1986] The Foucault Reader, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Ramusack, Barbara N.  `Cultural Missionaries, Maternal Imperialists, Feminist Allies: British Women Activists in India, 1865-1945`, pp. 119-36, in Western Women and Imperialism: Complicity and Resistance, Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Raughter, Rosemary  `A Discreet Benevolence: Female Philanthropy and the Catholic Resurgence in Eighteenth-Century Ireland`, pp. 465-84, in Women’s History Review, 6/4.
Rendall, Jane [ed]  Equal or Different: Women’s Politics 1800-1914, Basil Blackwell, Oxford and New York.
Rouse, Shahnaz  `Feminist Representations: Interrogating Religious Difference`, pp. 549-552, in Gender and History, 10/3.
Rowbotham, Judith  `"Hear an Indian Sister’s Plea": Reporting the Work of Nineteenth-Century British Female Missionaries`, pp. 247-61, in Women’s Studies International Forum, 21/3.
Rowbotham, Judith  Good Girls Make Good Wives: Guidance for Girls in Victorian Fiction, Basil Blackwell, Oxford.
Rowbotham, Sheila [1973, 1977] Hidden from History: 300 Years of Women’s Oppression and the Fight Against It, Pluto, London.
Ryan, Jenny  `Women, Modernity and the City`, pp. 35-63, in Theory, Culture and Society, 11/4.
Schaffer, Kay  `Whose Cannibalism?: Consumption, Incorporation and the Colonial Body`, pp. 85-108, in The Legacy of Colonialism, Galway University Press, Galway.
Schupf, Harriet Warm  `Single Women and Social Reform in Mid Nineteenth-Century England: The Case of Mary Carpenter`, pp. 301-17, in Victorian Studies, 17/3.
Scott, Joan Wallach [ed]  Feminism and History, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Sinha, Mrinalini  `Gender in the Critiques of Colonialism and Nationalism: Locating the "Indian Woman"`, pp. 477-504, in Feminism and History, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Summers, Anne  `A Home from Home – Women’s Philanthropic Work in the Nineteenth Century`, pp. 33-63, in Fit Work for Women, Croom Helm, London.
Thom, Deborah  `A Lop-Sided View: Feminist History or the History of Women?`, pp. 25-51, in Critical Feminism: Argument in the Disciplines, Open University Press, Buckingham and Philadelphia.
Tyrrell, Ian  Woman’s World Woman’s Empire: The Woman’s Christian Temperance Union in International Perspective, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill and London.
Vicinus, Martha  Independent Women: Work and Community for Single Women 1850-1920, Virago, London.
Waddington, Keir  `"Grasping Gratitude": Charity and Hospital Finance in Late-Victorian London`, pp. 181-202, in Charity, Self-Interest and Welfare in the English Past, UCL Press, London.
Walker, Linda,  `Party Political Women: A Comparative Study of Liberal Women and the Primrose League, 1890-1914`, pp. 165-191, in Equal or Different: Women’s Politics 1800-1914, Basil Blackwell, Oxford and New York.
Walkowitz, Judith R.  City of Dreadful Delight: Narratives of Sexual Danger in Late-Victorian London, Virago, London.
Walton, Ronald G.  Women in Social Work, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London and Boston.
Wharton, Edith [1905, 1985, 1993] The House of Mirth, ed. Cynthia Griffin Wolff, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Whitaker, Ben  The Foundations: An Anatomy of Philanthropy and Society, Eyre Methuen, London.
Wilson, Elizabeth  `The Invisible Flâneur`, pp. 90-110, in New Left Review, 191.
Wilson, Elizabeth  The Sphinx in the City: Urban Life, the Control of Disorder, and Women, Virago, London.