Women Discrimination in Literature of 19th Century

The explanations for seeing women as erotic, subordinate human beings, so physically and psychologically distinct from men, stem largely from commoners’ and scientists’ views.
In the nineteenth century, women in America were thought subordinate to men. Women had no concept of equality during this time period. This is because women had to depend on their fathers or brothers when they grew up. They later married and became the property of their fathers, who were selected by their parents. In this male-dominated world, men had the opportunity to build their careers and earn money, while women had to step aside and take care of their household. The reason why women were viewed as a sexual, passive human beings, so physically and mentally different from men, was due to the beliefs that both ordinary civilians and scientists supported. From the commoner’s point of view, one of the most significant pieces of literature containing a description of a typical woman’s life is “A Rose for Emily” by William Faulkner, which talked about the life of Emily and how the society viewed her as a female is used in the research. Likewise, “The Functions and Disorders of the Reproductive Organs in Childhood, Youth, Adult Age, and Advanced Life, Considered in Their Physiological, Social, and Moral Relations” written by Acton, which deals with the analysis of women’s passiveness and asexuality from the medical perspective is also used. Actons views like most medical personnel in the 19th century view sex as something which was utterly enjoyed by men only while females tolerated it for reproduction only purpose. Given that men wrote both the mentioned books, a woman’s memoirs book known as ‘Elizabeth Garret Anderson’ is essential for supporting the central concept and in carrying out a subjective research. The main purpose of this paper is to analyze the reasons behind the discrimination of women in the 19th century by considering primary sources such as literary and scientific works.

Commoner`s View of Women in 19th Century

In story “The Rose for Emily,” William Faulkner depicts of the limited life that Miss Emily is forced to live in the society. Miss Emily is represented as a woman who is unsuccessful her entire life and is opposed to change. Her father refused her to be married, and after his death, she refuses to let go of his corpse as the death caught her by surprise. At the end she accepts her father’s death become friends with a northern laborer called Homer. Her connection with him surprises most of the community members as the society viewed Emily as a lonely woman who could not form any relationship. However, the relationship did not lead to marriage as Homer claimed that he was not a man to marry. Homer finally disappears, and he was never to be seen again leaving her alone. The society also viewed Emily negatively because she was a lonely woman. That was seen when she bought arsenic in town; the townspeople assumed that she was going to kill herself. Her reputation also made the townspeople unable to confront her about the smell which was coming from her house.

The novel depicts how men controlled women in the 19th century. That is evident from how Emily’s father was a manipulative and intimidating figure who kept her from living her life as she wished. She was unable to grow, learn, or even have a family. The influence of her father on her was seen even after his death. When talking about Emily and her father the townspeople said, “We had long thought of them as a tableau, Miss Emily a slender figure in white in the background, her father a spraddled silhouette in the foreground, his back to her and clutching a horsewhip, the two of them framed by the back-flung front door” (Faulkner,21). That meant Emily was small without powers and wore white in the background, which was a symbol of purity and innocence. That life affected her to the end in which she became lonely after the death of her father and kept her body. Similarly, she did the same with Homer for fear of being left alone. That was an emblem of isolation from everybody in the society. Everyone left her, and those who were related to her were disappeared in a short period. Society seemed to push her away, and it caused her isolation to reach the maximum point till her death. William Faulkner, who was an excellent writer, therefore, illustrates the struggle that women went through during the 19th century and how the society discriminated against them from a commoner’s point of view.

Kimberly M. Radek supports William Faulkner`s claim on the mistreatment of women in the 19th century. Radek’s argument is that men are considered to be far more superior than females. This is by outlining the stereotypes that were used to define women during that period. These stereotypes are; weak, timid, passive, not rational, domestic, emotional and vulnerable to madness, dependent, social and unable to resist temptation. This defined them as having a particular kind of sphere. Men on the other had stereotypes that promoted their public image, such as; the power powerful, energetic, courageous, worldly, logical, rational, independent, sexual, among others. Therefore men were depicted as having a public sphere. Having gained insight from the literary evidence how women were treated in the 19th century, to get the full picture, the contrast with scholar work is given below

Scientist`s View of Women in 19th Century

William Acton uses his scientific insight in his book “The functions and disorders of the reproductive organs in childhood, youth, adult age, and advanced life: considered in their physiological, social, and moral relations,” to give consolation to a bachelor or man as he faces human trial in his life. Hence, Acton`s aim is to support men`s action and their sexuality at the various stages of their life. The men are perceived as sexual and active while the women are viewed as passive (Acton, 19). Acton depicts women as people who should be subjected to the control and protection of their fathers and husband since they are irrational. This is similar to how William Faulkner illustrations of how people in the community perceive Miss Emily as irrational. Individuals in the community have a negative perception towards Miss Emily since she demonstrates her urge in wanting to get married. In the story, Emily was subjected to the control and protection of her father which is in accordance Acton’s argument.

Elaine Fortin supports the claim that during the 19th-century men were the dominant species while women were the subjects to the people. Most doctors, such as Dr. William Acton, made the assumption that healthy straight women did not portray and sexual desire and that only the strange and unhealthy women described such features. These young girls were not supposed to be found in the company of men as this would be perceived as sexual desire. Emily’s father also had the same view and that he took it far by not allowing her to get married.

Over the years, many scientist, both men, and women have made an enormous impact on the development of science. However, most of the people are common with the works of a male scientist such as Sir Isaac Newton and Galileo Galilei. Most people do not recognize the great contribution of women to the field of science, for example, Florence Nightingale, Elizabeth Garrett, and Ana de Osorio (Clark University). During the revolutionary period, women took part in making scientific discoveries such as Ana de Osorio discovered the medicinal properties of the bark of quinine tree. Laura Bassi was accepted at the faculty of the University of Bologna, thus becoming the first female to teach at a European University. However, the family members of these great women were against their idea of pursuing their career (Clark University). From a Justice viewpoint, the works written by a female is also critical for comparison with the sources that are analyzed as shown below.

Women`s View on been Discriminated in the 19 the Century

Louisa Anderson depicts Elizabeth Garrett Anderson as a woman who faces high odds in been accepted as in the medical world as a doctor. Elizabeth Garrett was the second born with nine siblings. Luckily their parents believe that both girls and boys should receive the best education; therefore the father sends Elizabeth`s` brothers to school while a governess taught Elizabeth and her sister in the house. Later on, they are sent to school, “Academy for the Daughters of Gentlemen.” After school, Elizabeth continues with her study, and she encounters Emily Davies, her brother`s tutor. Emily encourages Elizabeth to discard ‘the old-style and limited life of the well-to-do English lady.’

Elizabeth Garrett, later on, meets Elizabeth Blackwell who inspires her into the medical field. Elizabeth Garrett faces obstacles both at home and in the medical world so as to be recognized as a doctor (Anderson, 50). Her parents were against the idea of her becoming a doctor, most especially her mother. The medical learning institution did not want to admit her since she was a woman, while the medical committees were adamant in acknowledging her as a medical student. Also, the medical students saw as an alien in their class which led to her expulsion from class. However, Elizabeth struggles on and with the aid of the father she is registered in the medical registry by the Apothecaries Society. However, the Society of Apothecaries revises their charter so as to ensure no other woman has included into the Medical Register again.

In 1869, Elizabeth applied for a position of staff at Shadwell Hospital, which was for children and this is where she meets with James George Skelton Anderson. Later on, the two work together in reforming the hospital administration (“Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Facts, Information, Pictures | Encyclopedia.Com Articles About Elizabeth Garrett Anderson”). On February 9, 1871, Elizabeth got married to James Anderson. However, Elizabeth Garrett does not abandon her work as she is supposed to do as per the modern practice those days. Elizabeth dedicates her life in changing people beliefs on a woman private sphere.


In conclusion, it is evident that the 19th-century world was a male dominated society whereby the men were viewed as superior to women. The commoners were the most people who perceived women as inferior to men, therefore discriminating against them. However, the scientists, such as Dr. Acton, supported the stereotypes against women, hence making the situation worse for women.

Works Cited

Acton, William. The functions and disorders of the reproductive organs in childhood, youth, adult age, and advanced life: considered in their physiological, social, and moral relations. Philadelphia, P. Blakiston, 1883, Accessed 1 Apr. 2017.

Anderson, Louisa Garrett. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. 1st ed., London: Cambridge University Press, 2016,

Clark University. “Women In Scientific Revolutionary Era.” Web.Clark.Edu/, 2017, http://web.clark.edu/afisher/HIST253/lecture_text/WomenScientificRevolution.pdf.

Encyclopedia of World Biography. “Elizabeth Garrett Anderson Facts, Information, Pictures | Encyclopedia.Com Articles About Elizabeth Garrett Anderson.” Encyclopedia.Com, 2004, http://www.encyclopedia.com/people/medicine/medicine-biographies/elizabeth-garrett-anderson.

Faulkner, William. A Rose for Emily. Logan, Iowa: Perfection Learning, 2009. Print.

Kimberly Radek. “Women In The Nineteenth Century.” Www2.Ivcc.Edu, 2017, http://www2.ivcc.edu/gen2002/women_in_the_nineteenth_century.htm.

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