Female Ancestors Mistreated

19th century-ladies To truly get an idea of how life was for some of our ancestors you have to know what life was like and what was done and expected of people, the accepted culture of a certain time. This is especially true for the treatment and expectation of females. Ladies owning property and voting in elections is a fairly newer concept. Our female ancestors were for the most part second-class citizens. Of course no one would stand for such treatment in the 21st century in western cultures, but it was the accepted behavior just 100 years and longer ago everywhere.

Here are just some of the methods and ways women were mistreated.

Husbands had all the power relating to a couple divorcing. He could have full charge of their children, and of course all finances, leaving his former wife destitute, without any money. That doesn’t mean that always happened. However, under the law and social conduct it was very acceptable.

In the 19th century, ladies of any social class (wealthy to middle class) whether through the father or husband never could have a career. The poorer classes when a wife or daughter had to work they were only allowed work in factories, being a housekeeper, maid, or take in sewing or laundry work. Even in factory work females were paid well under what a male was paid even for the same hours and type of work.

If a father, brother, uncle or husband wanted a female relative out of the household, so they did not have to support them, all they needed to do was have them declared insane. All that was required were two doctors (based on the testimony of the male relative) to sign a certificate and the female would be imprisoned in an asylum. The male could even just say the female was hysterical and get her committed.

Inheriting an estate and property was rarely done. If the husband died and his widow remained, generally there was a male trustee (a brother-in-law, son, nephew, etc) to oversee the property and money. He made the decision of how much money she got to operate the household. Generally the main items she could claim as her own were clothing and jewelry.

Treated as a second-class citizen also meant a female could not open a bank account in her own name, vote, sue someone in court, sign contracts, or even make her own medical decisions. The amount of educational schooling was limited and even sport activities were restricted in some forms. Women’s roles were to take care of the household, bear children if married, obey social restrictions, and do very little else. It was acceptable for a female to be beaten by her father or husband.

Before medicine, germs and diseases were truly understood, many of our female ancestors suffered from puerperal fever. This when the male doctor went from one house and patient to another and did not wash his hands or change clothes. The doctor might be with one patient with a contagious disease and his next visit is to help in the delivery of a baby. Developing puerperal fever from a bacteria infection, a female could die from after giving birth. In the 1800s doctors did not feel washing hands was necessary, after all; “Doctors are gentlemen, and gentlemen’s hands are clean.”

It makes you really appreciate what our great grandmothers went through and thankful later generations pushed for equal rights.

Photo:  The male once had full power and control.

< Return To Blog