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World History Honors Group Project

Daily Life in 18 century Europe for the Middle and Lower Classes

 

 

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Women and the Home

 

Birth

Abortion

Marriage

Divorce

 

Children

 

Labor

 

Other Life Styles

   

Prostitution

Homosexuality

Illnesses

   

Media

     

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Women and the Home

  Birth Abortion Marriage Divorce    

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Children

 

Birth

Labor, or laying-ins, had many various superstitions attached.  Form the sewing of a willow twig into the lady’s skirts to the following Russian custom: The midwife would ask the laboring woman and her husband to list all the people they had slept with. It was believed that if they each told the truth, the labor would be easy; if one of them lied, the labor would be difficult.
In the 18th century, a division between surgeons and midwives came about, as medical men began to assert that their modern scientific processes were better for mothers and infants than the folk-medical midwives. At the outset of the 18th century in England, most babies were caught by a midwife, but by the onset of the 19th century, the majority of those babies born to persons of means had a surgeon involved.

Abortion

Women wishing an abortion would overdose on such herbs or alcohol, causing the womb to reject the fetus.
Common abortifacients, or herbs used to cause an abortion:
Saffron: Exotic herb also used for jaundice, baby colic, and to get rid of menstrual periods
Pennyroyal: Also used in teas to aid in menstrual flow
Common Rue: Also called Herb-of-grace, used for colic, gas pains, and improving digestion.

Marriage

Before 1753 it was very easy for two people to get married, of whatever class, and however many times they wanted.  Before the Marriage Act of 1753 all that was required was an exchange of words of consent in front of two witnesses, the vows must be said in the present tense and the two to be married must be of age.  That is to say, 14 years old for men, and 12 for women.
It was also easy for parents to take away any dowry that might exist and remove names from wills and in some cases, even cast out of the family.  Before the Marriage Act, it seems to have been quite common for the woman to abandon her “spouse” because there was nothing in writing to keep them there by law. Some men would "marry" one woman and desert her and then go "marry" another.
 
As Sir Dudley Ryder expressed in 1753: "...when a young gentleman or lady is entitled to a large estate, the advantage to be got by marrying them is so great, and consequently the temptation so strong, that our laws have never been able to prevent the evil.''
Sir Dudley also says "every gentleman that has been conversant in the practice of the law knows, what a number of expensive law suits are thereby occasioned about the legitimacy of children; and how difficult it often is to determine whether the parents were married or no: nay, sometimes a clandestine marriage is set up after a man's death, which was never heard of in his life time, and by an incontestable proof, which by ways and means may be obtained, his whole effects are carried away from his relations by the children of a woman whom he never acknowledged as his wife."
This act required that the marriage take place with banns and they couple must purchase a marriage license. If the two are under the age of twenty-one, then they must have their parent's permission. The wedding must take place between eight in the morning and noon. The wedding must be recorded in the Marriage Register along with the signatures of the two to be married, witnesses, and the minister, and this must take place in front of witnesses and a certified clergyman.
Because of this act, verbal contracts were no longer considered marriage, which made “secret” marriages illegal. Anyone who did not follow these rules in marriage could be banished for fourteen years.

Divorce

Was expensive and hard to get.  Lots of legal processes to work through. Marriage was more a “jail sentence” for some, but divorce was not often a viable solution, save for the very rich and very determined.
A man’s infidelity was not grounds for a divorce.  However, a woman’s was.
Divorced woman often had no rights, unless she was independently rich.  In such a case, she often enjoyed more rights and legal freedoms.

 

 

Children

 

Labor

 

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Labor

Child labor was common in Britain during the late 18th century, when children could sometimes worked up to 16 hours a day. Conditions were often dangerous for them, especially for those who worked in mines.  These children usually received very little to no formal education whatsoever.
 
 

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Prostitution

"Miss B____rn. No. l 8 Old Compton Street, Soho Close in the arms she languishingly lies With dying looks, short breath, and wishing eyes. This accomplished nymph has just attained her eighteenth year, and fraught with every perfection, enters a volunteer in the field of Venus. She plays on the pianofort, sings, dances, and is mistress of every Maneuver in the amorous contest that can enhance the coming pleasure; is of the middle stature, fine auburn hair, dark eyes and very inviting countenance, whichever seems to beam delight and love. In bed she is all the heart can wish, or eyes admires every limb is symmetry, every action under cover truly amorous; her price two pounds."
(Maccubbin 6) - excerpt from Harris's List of Covent Garden Ladies (1788), a listing of prostitutes published annually [written by impoverished poet, Samuel Derrick]
Berlin - required medical inspection in 1700
Paris – began to register prostitutes in 1785
Great Britain - Contagious Diseases Prevention Acts (1864, 1866, and 1869) required periodic medical examination of all prostitutes in military/naval districts; detention of all those found to be infected

  "Cover Jobs":

Washer women, seamstress, cook, etc.
“Flower seller” (England), “Orange Seller” (France) were synonymous with prostitution

Homosexuality

"Molly houses" – places where homosexual men could meet safely.
“Buggering” or sodomizing was illegal
Male prostitutes, if found at all, were poor, working boys “that would do anything for a little money”.
Lesbians were as common if not more than gay men. In Fanny Hill (John Cleland), the protagonist was introduced to lesbianism.

Illnesses

Syphilis – common STD among prostitutes; caused rashes, insanity, and death; also called “Great Pox”; huge health concern
Small pox – common among all classes, very deadly, highly contagious (by touch/body fluids, not air born)
 
Syphilis – "A night in the arms of Venus leads to a lifetime on Mercury". Mercury was a common treatment, given by mouth, caused brittle bones and mercury poisoning (insanity was noted sooner than the degradation of the nervous system caused by Syphilis)
Small pox – no cure at the time

 

 

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Other Life Styles

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