What historical events and social issues relate to Sarah Stickney Ellis’s The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits?

Quick answer:

There are two historical and social events connected to the publication of Sarah Stickney Ellis's The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits. Those are the emergence of separate spheres ideology and the early debates around the role and purpose of education of young women.

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In terms of the historical and social context, there are two key ideas that you need to be aware of.

First of all, there is separate spheres ideology. Historians have noted that this began in the late eighteenth century but persisted well into the Victorian era (1837–1901). In essence, this ideology states that society is divided into two spheres: the public sphere, which is the world outside of the home, and the private sphere, which relates to matters inside of the home. Biological ideas about gender were linked to both of these spheres. For example, because women were characterized as being gentle, passive, and naturally nurturing, they were better suited to the private sphere. The image of a woman as the “angel of the hearth” is a common motif in the early Victorian period. Conversely, because men are more active and more rational, they are better suited to the public sphere, which includes the worlds of work and business.

We see evidence of Stickney Ellis’s belief in separate spheres throughout her book. In fact, she argues that women are powerful figures in the home, through their duties as moral guardians and teachers of children.

The second thing you need to be aware of is the debates around the role of education for young girls. Because of the population increase, which led to far more girls being born than boys, there were concerns about what would happen to the surplus of young women who would not be able to find a man to marry and support them. Given that their education thus far, if they were lucky enough to receive one, was based around domesticity, there were concerns about whether this was adequate for working life.

For Stickney Ellis, the home remains the number one destination for women, but she would have been aware of the debates around education and how it might adapt to the changing population.

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