British Workwoman

ZOOM % BROWSE INTERFACE (Metabotnik) : CLICK HERE to browse British Workwoman numbers 51-86 

ZOOM & BROWSE INTERFACE (Metabotnik) : CLICK HERE to browse British Workwoman numbers 232 – 363

We’ve been very struck by how powerfully the stories in the British Workwoman provoked reactions in readers and writers. Many of the stories contributors have written for us have been inspired by the British Workwoman – either seeming to be sympathetic to the characters and situations it depicts in its fiction or very antagonistic to how it depicts women!

Dr Debbie Canavan wrote a revealing short article for us on the depiction of women in the British Workwoman for an exhibition we put on in 2019: it’s definitely worth checking it out.

The British Workwoman (1863-1913) was a penny monthly evangelical Christian temperance magazine run by men and aimed at working-class women. It is often associated by press historians with the British Workman though there was never any formal connection between them (they never cross-promoted each other for instance). What does connect them is the similarity of their titles, their price, monthly frequency, illustrated format and temperance aims. While the British Workman comprised 4 pages, the British Workwoman had 8 pages per issue, through its pages were smaller in size (a significant fact not readily visible online). The similarity between the two periodicals in fact indicates similarity of market position rather than a business connection: it suggests that the British Workwoman recognised a gap in the market for women that the British Workman had opened for men.

The British Workwoman upheld the view that a woman’s main “work” was to exercise beneficial influence over herself, her husband and family so that they would become good citizens. While the magazine acknowledged that women did have to work outside their own homes (it readily gave advice to domestic servants), few of its striking illustrations show women at work in any but domestic or rural settings. There are a few shopgirls and market sellers, but there are no illustrations at all of women working in factories. Many, like the featured image here, are set literally in liminal spaces – on thresholds – between the public and private, between leisure and the work of emotional management. Many depict telling or listening to stories and dramatize key points in accompanying stories.

Single Issues of British Workwoman digitised by BLT19 Project