Defining women's sickness and work: Female friendly societies in England, 1780-1830

Document Type


Date of Original Version



This article explores how women defined work in relation to illness and childbearing circa 1800 through an analysis of the rules of English female friendly societies. These mutual aid organizations, established and run by women for women, provided financial benefits to sick members. Their rules defined illness in functional terms as the inability to work. They also reveal how women ascribed value to both paid labor and unpaid domestic duties (childcare and housework) at a time when political economists devalued housework and more generally marginalized women's work. Rather than distinguishing between wage and unpaid labor, societies placed both on a continuum of daily life and toil. The variations among rules - particularly striking in their treatment of housework, pregnancy, childbirth, and the involvement of philanthropists - underscore the complications women faced and solutions they created to safeguard their earnings as well as the economic viability of their societies. © 2012 Journal of Women's History.

Publication Title, e.g., Journal

Journal of Women's History