British society in 19th century
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British society in 19th century
English society comprises the group behaviour of the English people, and of collective social interactions, organisation and political attitudes in England. The social history of England evidences many social and societal changes over the history of England, from Anglo-Saxon England to the contemporary forces upon the Western world. These major social changes have both internally and in its relationship with other nations. The themes of social history include demographic history, labour history and the working class, women's history, family, the history of education in England, rural and agricultural history, urban history and industrialisation.
Gender And Class In Victorian Society
The Victorian Era in Britain was dominated by the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901). Although it was a peaceful and prosperous time, there were still issues within the social structure. The social classes of this era included the Upper class, Middle class, and lower class. Those who were fortunate enough to be in the Upper class did not usually perform manual labor. Instead, they were landowners and hired lower class workers to work for them, or made investments to create a profit. This class was divided into three subcategories: Royal, those who came from a royal family, Middle Upper, important officers and lords, and Lower Upper, wealthy men and business owners (Victorian England Social Hierarchy). The expansion of the Middle class during this time was due to the rapid growth of cities and the economy. It was also referred to as the Bourgeoisie, and consisted of those who had skilled jobs to support themselves and their families. Merchants and shopkeepers became popular occupations as trade, both domestic and overseas, flourished. The large scale of new industries such as railroads, banks, and government meant that more labor was needed to make sure the cities were able to function (Loftus). The white collar professions had the ability to move up in the corporate rankings and earn a higher salary. It was helpful to have connections to those in powerful positions as they were able to get jobs more easily. Moreover, the Middle class was also divided into two categories, higher level and lower level. People from the lower middle class typically worked for those in the Higher level (Victorian England Social Hierarchy). The Working class consisted of unskilled laborers who worked in brutal and unsanitary conditions (Victorian England Social Hierarchy). They did not have access to clean water and food, education for their children, or proper clothing. Often, they lived on the streets and were far from the work they could get, so they would have to walk to where they needed to get to. Unfortunately, many workers resorted to the use of drugs like opium and alcohol to cope with their hardships (Thomas). The Under class were those who were helpless and depended on the support of others. The poor and young orphans relied on donations to survive (Victorian England Social Hierarchy). Some women who were unskilled and could not get any jobs became prostitutes in order to make a living. As they were extremely controversial, Parliament voted to pass the “Contagious Diseases Act” (1864, 1866, 1869) which allowed prostitution in military towns, but meant the women had to be forcibly checked for diseases (Landow). The act was meant to protect the men from contracting diseases; not the women from being harmed. This mistreatment created a strong feminist movement among Victorian women who yearned for fair treatment. Finally in 1885, Parliament passed the “Criminal Law Amendment Act”, which raised the age of consent and prohibited the use of brothels (Landow).
Victorian society was organized hierarchically. While race, religion, region, and occupation were all meaningful aspects of identity and status, the main organizing principles of Victorian society were gender and class. As is suggested by the sexual double standard, gender was considered to be biologically based and to be determinative of almost every aspect of an individual’s potential and character. Victorian gender ideology was premised on the “doctrine of separate spheres.” This stated that men and women were different and meant for different things. Men were physically strong, while women were weak. For men sex was central, and for women reproduction was central. Men were independent, while women were dependent. Men belonged in the public sphere, while women belonged in the private sphere. Men were meant to participate in politics and in paid work, while women were meant to run households and raise families. Women were also thought to be naturally more religious and morally finer than men (who were distracted by sexual passions by which women supposedly were untroubled). While most working-class families could not live out the doctrine of separate spheres, because they could not survive on a single male wage, the ideology was influential across all classes.
Class was both economic and cultural and encompassed income, occupation, education, family structure, sexual behaviour, politics, and leisure activities. The working class, about 70 to 80 percent of the population, got its income from wages, with family incomes usually under £100 per annum. Many middle-class observers thought that working-class people imitated middle-class people as much as they could, but they were mistaken; working-class cultures (which varied by locality and other factors) were strong, specific, and premised on their own values. The middle class, which got its income (of £100 to £1,000 per annum) from salaries and profit, grew rapidly during the 19th century, from 15 to over 25 percent of the population. During the 19th century, members of the middle class were the moral leaders of society (they also achieved some political power). The very small and very wealthy upper class got its income (of £1,000 per annum or often much more) from property, rent, and interest. The upper class had titles, wealth, land, or all three; owned most of the land in Britain; and controlled local, national, and imperial politics.
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