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The Feminine Public SphereMiddle-Class Women in Civic Life in Scotland, C.1870–1914$
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Megan Smitley

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780719079665

Published to Manchester Scholarship Online: July 2012

DOI: 10.7228/manchester/9780719079665.001.0001

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The feminine public sphere

The feminine public sphere

(p.40) 2 The feminine public sphere
The Feminine Public Sphere

Megan Smitley

Manchester University Press

This chapter provides a brief overview of feminine public sphere by qualitative and quantitative evidence indicating that religious conviction and middle-class networks dominated the culture of Scotland's well-to-do public women. Christian faith appears as a key factor in middle-class women's determination to pursue a public life, while religious networks provided material and spiritual support for women's public work. The feminine public sphere represents more than an arena for middle-class women's reforming activities, and it is best understood as a site of middle-class women's contribution to middle-class identity. In addition, civic participation was a hallmark of middle-class culture in the 1870 to 1914 period. Affluent men enjoyed access to a range of formalised power structures at the local and national levels, and while women's route into civic life was largely through the informal power structures of their reforming organisations, their contributions to a middle-class culture of civic participation should be considered no less significant. Female associational life may have paralleled the structure and tenor of men's organisations, yet middle-class women's internalisation of supposed feminine moral superiority encouraged a desire to feminise middle-class public life. Thus, by contravening idealised notions of a sequestered femininity, middle-class public women sought to remould society in their own righteous image.

Keywords:   feminine public sphere, internalisation, righteous image, Christian faith

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