This chapter emphasizes the feminine public sphere. The notion of the feminine public sphere is based on the active participation of women in the formation of a middle-class identity, which was derived from a commitment to civic life and public service. Associationalism was a key feature of civil society in the 1870 to 1914 period, and while women's contribution to philanthropic societies has received some attention this study represents a more concerted effort to link women's public careers with the rise of a middle-class identity. By taking a fresh perspective on the ‘bourgeois public sphere’ through the lens of local, urban civic life—as opposed to high politics and the upper echelons of industrial capitalism—this research shows that the wives, sisters and daughters of men in the local elite mirrored their male kins' investment in a public profile in order to assert their own social position. The feminine public sphere of this study is the sphere of influence more affluent women carved out of a hostile, male oriented ‘public’ through heterodox interpretations of separate spheres; it is the discursive and organisational sites from which women contributed to the socio-political issues of their day while further reinforcing middle-class notions of civic duty.
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