Abstract

This article argues that ideas about gender informed the 1834 New Poor Law's concept of "ablebodiedness," which in turn affected how women petitioned for assistance and received relief. Utilizing poor law reports, workhouse and parish records, and women's petitions for governmental assistance in the 1830s and 1840s, Levine-Clark demonstrates that the poor law placed women in a difficult position by forcing them to decide whether they were women or workers. The creators of the New Poor Law assumed that women were physically fragile dependents of male providers whose role was above all domestic; simultaneously, the New Poor Law saw any able-bodied petitioner as one who supported his or her existence through gainful employment. Focusing on the idea of ablebodiedness, this article illuminates the complex and sometimes conflicting ways gender operated in early Victorian English poor law theory and practice.

Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 107-130
Launched on MUSE
2000-02-01
Open Access
No
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