Why did women face barriers in their education and political participation in Victorian England
Throughout history, the role of women has often carried a prejudice which has been embedded within society politically, socially and financially across the world. Although arguably one of the most liberal countries constitutionally, such chauvinism has indeed occurred within Britain, particularly during the Victorian Era. This restricted participation for women can be exemplified clearly in two main areas; education and politics. With universal compulsory education in Britain only being constitutionally enforced with the 1870 Education Act1, women had little opportunity to gain any form of coherent education in the early 19 th century; tuition was largely confined to the upper class, and even then, through instruction of private
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Thought to 'too forcibly engross the mind...during the crisis of puberty' by Dr Edward Jon Tilt, education was highly discouraged by scientists, and was believed to cause mental damage in women. 11 A general belief of mental inferiority within women was not uncommon; psychiatrist Henry Maudsley held the opinion that 'it does not seem possible that they should have the same type of mental development...we see great reason to dissent theirs opinions and to distrust the enthusiasm.' 12 This embodies the belief that the mental deficiency of women meant their opinions were invalid and should be ignored. Thus, women were prevented from participating in education and politics due to their psychological inferiority to men by nature, and when under the effects of menstruation.
Education was also believed to have physically damaging effects on a woman anatomically, beyond those psychologically aforementioned. In his article, 'Sex in Mind and in Education', Maudsley argues that although a woman is indeed capable of 'triumphing over male...competitors' in education, in doing so she would 'recklessly sacrifice...the special functions which have relation to
10 Eric J Evans, The Shaping of Modern Britain: Identity, Industry and Empire, 1780 – 1914, (London: Pearson
Education, 2011), Pp. 265-266.
11 Edward Jon Tilt, The