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  • Published: 3 Aug 2016
  • DOI: 10.4324/9781138641839-HOF3-1


  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Theorising women’s work: Wollstonecraft and the birth of feminism
  • Women’s work in the Agrarian and Industrial Revolutions
  • Legal reforms and the ‘surplus women’ crisis
  • Fit work for women: the opening of new opportunities
  • Social reform and the problem of class
  • Work and the suffrage campaign
  • Beyond the vote?
  • References

Feminism and Women’s Work, 1776–1928

School of English, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK


This article surveys the emergence of work as a key priority for feminism, as it developed from early roots in the late eighteenth century, through the nineteenth-century women’s movement, and into the early twentieth-century campaign for the vote. It argues that the pursuit of paid work and financial autonomy was initially slow to establish itself as a feminist priority, and draws attention to intersectional issues of class informing feminism’s growth out of a small middle-class constituency. It surveys key issues relating to feminist agitation for access to employment and the professions, including tensions with trades unionist campaigns for the ‘family wage’, and the schism between egalitarian and maternalist feminists over the extent to which women should be ‘protected’ from perceived occupational dangers. It concludes by considering the enfranchisement of some women in 1918 and all women in 1928 as a partial and incomplete victory.

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