Rare Photographs of Victorian Women in Working Clothes

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Most of the photographs that survive from the nineteenth century of women in working clothes show them as domestic servants. Some, however, show women in more unexpected occupations, which involved hard physical work, and decidedly unconventional dress.

There had been a public outcry in the 1830s when it was made public that women and children worked underground, almost naked, in coalmines, and such work was banned in 1842. However women continued to choose to work on the surface, or pit brow, loading coal wagons and grading the coal because it was well paid.

They evolved their own dress consisting of heavy duty trousers, like men’s, jackets, and skirts rolled up, resembling aprons. This practice caused a great deal of controversy in the 1860s, because it was generally considered that such hard physical tasks, (and the robust independent attitudes of the women who did it) were unwomanly, and the wearing of trousers indecent and objectionable, though to our eyes today it would seem thoroughly practical and decent.

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