Puritans or Profligates? What Lady Mary Feilding can teach us about the Victorians
After what many of us consider the scandalous eviction of the residents of Highgate’s Mary Feilding Guild in 2021, the archives of its founding charity were rescued by the HLSI. Lady Mary Feilding had founded the ‘Working Ladies’ Guild for Necessitous Gentlewomen’ in 1877 to deal with the needs of destitute women of the middle classes. Around 7000 case histories from the Victorian era are recorded in the volumes now stored in our archives, and they throw an unexpected – and unflattering – light on the society in which she and other philanthropic women took up the cause of their less fortunate sisters. We can rightly celebrate Feilding and other local and national heroines such as Octavia Hill and Angela Burdett-Coutts, but the objects of their charity – and the causes of distress – also deserve a hearing.
Dr Anne Summers is an Honorary Research Fellow of Birkbeck, University of London and Chair of the Friends of The Women’s Library. She was formerly a Curator of Modern Historical Manuscripts at the British Library. Her research publications focus on British women’s history in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
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