Working Class Women's Agency in the Labour Movement in East London, 1840 – 1914
This research reveals a hidden history of working-class women’s lives and agency in industrial East London, 1840 to 1914. “Sweated” industrial women were integral to East London’s industrial labour geographies, as demonstrated in the specific trades of bookbinding, upholstery, garment making and tailoring, confectionery and ropemaking, amongst others. Women were ideologically restricted into the sphere of domesticity, which limited their equal access to the labour force and disavowed their public voice. Working-class women developed resilience and feminist resistance to their class exploitation through their local labour geographies. As women learned from the previous generations’ resistance, they created and developed conduits of self-expression within the labour movements’ platforms. As middle-class women joined working-class women in the labour force, they intersected in a labour movement in which class both differentiated and consolidated people. A prosopography shows that working-class women workers’ public manifestation of agency was through trade unionism. Between 1840 and 1914, working-class women’s self-expression grew louder. This thesis examines agency through a framework of four pillars of volition, materialist, political and corporeal agency. As working-class women claimed their right to the public sphere, they developed their feminist citizenship from below.
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