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Class, Gender and Employment in England’s Victorian Public Baths.

Day, DJ (2017) Class, Gender and Employment in England’s Victorian Public Baths. In: International Society for the History of Physical Education and Sport Conference, 29 June 2016 - 02 July 2016, Paris, France. (Unpublished)

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Abstract

Although both sexes engaged in bathing in England at the beginning of the nineteenth century, often under the supervision of seaside 'bathers', swimming for exercise remained a primarily male activity. However, mainly because of its utilitarian value in saving life and its potential for enabling 'feminine-appropriate' activity, formal swimming gradually became more acceptable for women, especially after Municipal facilities increased significantly following the Baths and Washhouses Act of 1878. As the number of swimming baths expanded, some women took on formal teaching positions, designating themselves as 'swimming teachers' or 'mistresses', and some assumed managerial duties as 'matrons', while others were employed in a range of roles from 'bath attendant' to ‘ticket clerk’. This paper investigates the expansion in opportunities for female employment in the Baths during the ‘long-Victorian’ period by taking a prosopographical approach to analyse relevant census data collected in England between 1841 and 1911. The author concludes that a moral imperative, which increasingly required women to be attended to only by women, combined with the creation of segregated indoor swimming spaces, meant that the Public Baths provided a number of potential career routes for women from both the lower-middle and skilled working-classes. In particular, both the swimming mistress and the matron, many of whom had family connections to a facility or to the sport, became more visible as participation increased among all social classes. In that respect, swimming, and the social spaces and structures that were developed to accommodate it, stimulated a limited degree of gender equality in the work place.

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