Women, Food and Politics 1880 - 1930

'The bread and butter of life' - Martin Pugh traces how the increasing electoral importance of food and domestic issues in Britain helped to entrench women in the mainstream of political life.

In the 1860s when women began to press for the vote in Britain their opponents thought they had the complete answer. Woman was the 'Angel in the House'; absorbed by domesticity, she had neither the opportunity nor the inclination to dabble in the complex questions of national politics. It was, however, a precarious argument; supposedly rooted in fundamental and lasting characteristics of the female sex, it proved vulnerable to fluctuating circumstances.

For an earlier generation of Victorians one of women's chief domestic concerns – food – had been a central political issue, Up to 1846 the free traders had made 'cheap bread' a popular cry, and women had participated in the campaigns of the Anti-Corn Law League, if only in a supporting role. During the succeeding decades Liberal chancellors of the exchequer had made a practice of whittling away the duties on staple food items like tea, wheat and sugar. This policy, combined with the huge increase in supplies of such products from North America, Australia and India from the 1870s onwards, resulted in an improved and more varied diet for much of the population.

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