Saturday, August 30, 2014

Gender and Class One Hundred Years Ago

My husband and I toured a gorgeous estate on Thursday. As familiar as I am with the Edwardian era, there were still surprises to be had. For instance, ladies did not get to take advantage of the state of the art shower in that home. Their skin was far too delicate. I actually burst out laughing at that tidbit. They also thought lights were too strong for ladies' eyes so those were shaded by pretty screens to protect these delicate flowers.

The house was segregated by sex. The gentleman of the house was the only one with a bedroom on the second floor, and that was to protect his wife, their daughters, and any lady guests (They always traveled with a gentle companion--never alone.) who might be staying in the ladies' guest room. The sons, gentlemen visitors, even married guests, were all housed on the third floor. However, a woman was not permitted to be upstairs, unescorted, even if she was staying in that guest room. She needed to be accompanied by her husband. If he didn't feel like getting up in the middle of the night to walk her to the bathroom, she'd have to make use of the chamber pot in their room because it was a no-no for her to go anywhere by herself.

Three maids and one butler maintained the home. Females had to be unmarried. If they got engaged, they were out. The unmarried rule didn't apply to males, however, because it was a woman's responsibility to maintain her husband's home and care for their children. Naturally, she would be much too busy to manage someone elses.

But you see the stark differences money can make to the perceptions of what a person can handle, and what they can't. It's particularly obvious with women. While the gently-reared ladies were protected in every way possible, even from mixing too much with their own brothers. The maids were expected to quietly go everywhere in the house to strip beds, clean rooms, do laundry, prepare meals, and so much more. Obviously their skin wasn't too delicate for general scrubbing duties. Rather than direct lighting being too harsh for their eyes, they were expected to spend hours polishing all the silver fixtures, even if it meant standing on special scaffolding to reach some of it.

It was an interesting tour, and a welcome reminder of how much has changed -- for the better, particularly for the average woman.

1 comment:

  1. What a relief to be born in the 20th century. Watching The Women (1939) last night, it is amazing how "equal" the women perceived themselves to be. They still had social limits of behavior, and only one in the characters was working to support herself (a writer!). Still, compared to Edwardian period, a big step forward for women.