This month we are going to research the lives of our female ancestors.
In the first week we are going to look at the different occupations that our female ancestors may have done. I had a 3X Great Grandmother who was a midwife in the mid 1800s in Scotland. The University of Manchester has a website entitled “UK Centre for the History of Nursing and Midwifery.” Here you can find information and recommended reading on the subject.
If your ancestor was a governess you can find a bibliography at The Victorian Web. Did you know that women worked in the mines? You can find out more information on women’s involvement in the Industrial Revolution here.
You could find women working on the farm, the fisheries, textile mills and many other places outside the home.
In week two we will examine how women took care of their families without the basic services we take for granted today. Many women lived out in the middle of nowhere and had no neighbours to run to for assistance. Doctors were few and far between and money was scarce. So what did they do to take care of their family?
Home doctoring was a common practice. Today we might call it homeopathy. Women knew the basic herbs and other natural substances that would help heal their family of minor ailments. If things were more serious all they could do was try to make their patient more comfortable. If a doctor was available sometimes they would take items from the farm as payment, a few chickens, eggs or vegetables.
Home teaching was prevalent during this time as schools were either too far away or non-existent. Women may also be the preacher on Sunday instilling the values and teachings of the Bible to their family.
Women would do the family chores and then help their husbands on the farm if no farm labour was available or they could not afford it. You can find out about life on a Victorian farm in England here.
Let’s look at how single women coped during week three. The only occupations opened to single women of the middle or upper classes were nurse, teacher, nun and governess. These were considered respectable jobs for middle and upper class women. Single women from the lower classes were found working in the field, in domestic service, in the mines, in the factory and anywhere else they could find work to support themselves and their families.
Middle and upper class women were not encouraged to go out and find work. If they were single it was felt they were needed at home to care for aging parents and any siblings that may still be at home. You sometimes find single women moving in with siblings to help when a spouse has died.
Lower class women went out and earned money. It was not their own to do with as they pleased because it was expected that the money would be put into the family coffers. The money these women brought in for their family meant the difference of having a roof over their head or a meal or not being able to provide those simple necessities. Domestic service was preferred for single women of the lower class as they could get board and meals and then send the money home to their family. It meant one less mouth to be fed in the family home.
In the fourth week of August we will examine the roll of women in the First World War. This was a time when women experienced a new freedom that had not been felt before. The men were at war and the women had to make sure the industries kept running and supplies kept going to the front to support the men.
The class system seemed to blur for a while and women were working in all kinds of occupations. There were organized groups such as the Women’s Legion that taught women to drive, be mechanics, cooks and many other things. These women worked on the home front but some of them found themselves at the front driving ambulances and working in field hospitals. You can find our more about women taking the place of men at work here and more about the role of women from 1900-1945 here.
If you are finding it too hot to go outside or you are having a staycation this year why not spend some time finding out more about your female ancestors and how they lived their lives.
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