By the Sweat of Their Brow: Women workers at Victorian Coal Mines, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

By the Sweat of Their Brow

Women workers at Victorian Coal Mines, 1st Edition

By Angela V. John


264 pages

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The pit brow lasses who sorted coal and performed a variety of jobs above ground at British coal mines prompted a violent debate about women’s work in the nineteenth century.

Seen as the prime example of degraded womanhood, the pit brow woman was regarded as an aberration in a masculine domain, cruelly torn from her ‘natural sphere’, the home. The, attempt to restrict women’s work at the mines in the 1880s highlights the dichotomy between the fashionable ideal of womanhood and the necessity and reality of female manual labour.

Although only a tiny percentage of the colliery labour force, the pit lasses aroused an interest out of all proportion to their numbers and their work became a test case for women’s outdoor manual employment. Angela John discusses the implications of this debate, showing how it encapsulates many of the ambivalences of late Victorian attitudes towards working-class female employment, and at the same time raises wider questions both about women’s work in industries seen as traditionally male enclaves, and about the ways in which women within the working community have been presented by historians.This book was first published in 1980.


‘Dr John’s sympathetic yet critical writing is well set into the broader context of the late nineteenth century women’s campaign and succeeds in bringing a little-known topic to the attention of historians in a lively and informative way.’ – Kenneth D Brown, The Times Higher Education Supplement

‘Angela John, in her exciting and wide-ranging study, has restored the centrality of what was always a small percentage of the total mining force to our understanding of Victorian society.’ David Smith, Welsh History Review

‘Angela John’s book fills one of the many important gaps in our knowledge women workers in the Victorian period.’ – Frances Widdowson, Women’s Research and Resources Centre, London

Table of Contents


Preface 11

Part I: The Legacy 17

1. Below Ground 19

2. Exposition, Exclusion and Evasion 36

Part II: At the Pit Brow 67

3. The Daily Work 69

4. The Headquarters 97

Part III: The Test Case 133

5. The Confluence of Opinion 135

6. A Pit Brow Protest? 166

Conclusion 216

Epilogue 224

Appendix I: Munby’s Visits to Pit Women 234

Appendix II: The Open Door Policy 236

Bibliographical Note 238

Index 239

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Economic History

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Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Economic History