VL McBeth Book coverLess Than Equals

“Even though they make up half the population, women and girls have endured discrimination in most societies for thousands of years. In the past, women were treated as property of their husbands or fathers – they couldn’t own land, they couldn’t vote or go to school, and were subject to beatings and abuse and could do nothing about it. Over the last hundred years, much progress has been made to gain equal rights for women around the world, but many still live without the rights to which all people are entitled.”
— Robert Alan Silverstein

“Feminism is the radical notion that women are people.” 
― Marie Shear

Researching my family history is something that has taken up a considerable part of my time since about 2008. At first, it was collecting the names and dates of people I had never heard of, but before long I needed to know more. Delving deeper, I tried to answer questions such as Why did this happen? or How did that happen? That was when I found myself drawn into areas of history I hadn’t expected.
Prominent amongst things that both fascinated and angered me, were the attitudes of society towards women in the 19th century. Today, there is a lot of discussion about women’s rights, particularly with respect to how far we still have to go to see full equality with men. In reality, however, even the fact that we are now able to discuss these issues sets us far apart from our Victorian ancestors.
Until 1882, once a woman married, in the eyes of the law she ceased to exist. On her wedding day, she became one person with her husband and thereafter everything she did was under his direction. Her property and any money she owned transferred to him and in the event of divorce, prior to 1839, the man could expect unconditional custody of his children.
Without question, men considered themselves to be the dominant sex. As a result, it was they who were responsible for all rules and regulations, including those that were only relevant to women. Their reasoning was that:
1) Men were driven by their mind or intellectual strength, and as such were equipped to be the governing sex. They defined women by their sexuality and perceived them to be irrational, sensitive and dutiful. As such women were expected to fit into a society designed by men.
2) Men possessed superior physical strength. This meant they could, and often did, constraint women physically.
3) Educating women was not conducive to them being mothers. It was felt that the physical demands of menstruation and the intellectual demands of studying were incompatible.
Although life differed greatly depending on class, there was a general belief that girls should learn how to look after the house such that when the time came, she would marry and take care of her husband and raise his children. For women of middle and upper class backgrounds, marriage was often the only way to keep a roof over their heads.
Even for women of the lower classes, marriage and raising children was expected. Without a family, women were seen as ‘incomplete’. Often, however, these women were so impoverished they also had to work, just to keep food on the table.
For those women who refused to do as they were told, punishment could be severe. A husband was allowed to beat his wife, and even rape her, without fear of prosecution. It wasn’t until 1891 that a High Court ruling prevented a husband from imprisoning his wife in order to pursue his conjugal rights. Unbelievably it was not until a hundred years later, in 1991, that a similar ruling denied him the right to rape her.

Long before the advent of the suffragette movement in the early 20th century, there were women who sought to overturn these ideas. The early suffrage movement faced formidable hurdles, however, not least from Queen Victoria herself. She was against any change in a woman’s status and in a private letter, written when she learned that an acquaintance had become involved with the Women’s Suffrage Society, she wrote:

“I am most anxious to enlist everyone who can speak or write to join in checking this mad, wicked folly of “Women’s Rights”, with all its attendant horrors, on which her poor feeble sex is bent, forgetting every sense of womanly feeling and propriety. Lady Amberley ought to get a good whipping. Were woman to unsex themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection.”

While researching my family history, I uncovered a story I found so compelling it inspired me to turn it into a novel. Six years later, I started publishing The Ambition & Destiny Series, a family saga set between 1839 and 1910.

Condemned by Fate and Hooks & Eyes VL McBeatha short story prequel and Part 1 of the series, respectively, are available from Amazon

Part 2 Less Than Equals, is due for release on 17th July and highlights some of the issues women faced at the time.

Harriet (Miss Watkins) is introduced as an intelligent and independent-minded young woman. She has lived with her aunt and uncle for most of her life, but her relationship with her uncle has grown difficult over recent years.
In the extract below from Chapter 1, she is taking a walk with William, a young man who has recently started to work for her uncle. He has just confided to her that he had little choice in the work he was offered.
Miss Watkins thought for a moment. “Does that mean you’ll leave one day?”
William shrugged. “I don’t know. It may be too late now, but at least I haven’t got Mr Wetherby telling me everything I have to do. I just want to be able to make my own decisions.”
“You can do more than I’ll ever be able to.” Miss Watkins let out a sigh. “Even for something as simple as going for a walk I have to ask permission and have a chaperone. Have you any idea how hard it is being a woman? I often wish I were a man so I could do what I want.”
William stopped and studied her. “You can’t say that.”
“Why not? Why is it wrong for me to want to be my own person when it’s acceptable for you to want the same?”
“Because men and women are different. We have different roles. Women are special; we need to take care of you.”
“And that’s why I wish I were a man. I don’t want to be looked after; I want to have the freedom you have.”
William was lost for words. “I’m glad you’re not a man,” he said eventually. “I like you as you are.”
“Was that a compliment?” Miss Watkins cocked her head at him and smiled.
William rolled his eyes at her. “You know it was.”
“Well … thank you. I’m sorry if you don’t like the way I feel, but I can’t abide the unfairness.”
“It’s not unfair. We just have our own roles.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you swapped places with me for a week. You’d be begging to have your old freedoms back.”
William’s pace slowed. “How long have you felt like this?”
“Ever since I realised what my life would become. Did you know my uncle couldn’t understand why I wanted to carry on at school? When I complained, he sent me away to a school for ladies to learn how to behave. I’ve had it drilled into me from everyone I’ve ever known that I’m a woman and the most I can expect from life is to get a husband, a good one if I’m lucky, and look after his children.”
“Don’t you want to get married and have children?”
Miss Watkins stopped. “I’m sorry … again. I’m not giving you a good impression of me, am I? When we left the house, I was excited because we were going to be alone together, but in the last five minutes I’ve probably made you wish you’d never come to Handsworth.”
“No you haven’t.” William gazed into her doleful eyes as he subconsciously ran his fingers through her short, blonde ringlets. “I like you, but … I don’t know what to say. Women aren’t supposed to learn or be left alone.”
Miss Watkins turned away and blinked back the tears welling up in her eyes. “I’m sorry, I’ve misjudged you. Can you take me home and forget we had this conversation?”
William turned her to face him. “You intrigue me, Miss Watkins, and I don’t want to forget it. I know how I am when I’m with Mr Wetherby and so perhaps I can begin to understand … if you’ll let me.”
Miss Watkins smiled. “You won’t be shocked or think me strange?”
William’s heart was pounding. “I can’t guarantee that, but I’ll try to understand. It can be our secret.”
The Ambition & Destiny Series is now available from Amazon {http://bit.ly/VLMcB}. If you like heroines who are ahead of their time, and epic sagas set in Victorian Era England, start the journey today.
Further details of Women’s Rights {http://bit.ly/ve-womens-rights}in Victorian Era England and the early Suffrage movement {http://bit.ly/ve-suffrage}can be found on my website: vlmcbeath.com {http://valmcbeath.com}

Historical Fiction AuthorAbout VL McBeath, historical fiction author:

I didn’t ever envisage being an author, and certainly not of historical fiction. As I researched my Family History, however, there was something about the unfolding story that compelled me to put fingers to keyboard. Initially, I wrote for my own benefit, but after much deliberation, I decided the story needed to be told.

That was back in 2010/11. I’m currently revising and editing the novels, which have turned into The Ambition & Destiny Series. A short story prequel, Condemned by Fate was published at the end of 2016 and Hooks & Eyes, Part 1 of the series was released in March 2017. I am now hoping Part 2, Less Than Equals, will be published early July.

Outside of writing I am a scientist by training and have worked in the pharmaceutical industry for many years. I was born and raised in Liverpool but now live in Cheshire with my husband, youngest daughter and cat. In addition to Family History, my interests include rock music and Liverpool Football Club.

The Ambition & Destiny Series is set in Birmingham (UK) between 1839 and 1910, and although inspired by the information I uncovered, it is very much a work of fiction.