Florence: Women and a changing society at Mr Straw's House

Florence - Women and Power

Over the years the role women played in society has changed, and one woman saw many of these changes herself.

Florence Straw, the mother of the family that lived in on Blyth Grove, lived through a turbulent time that saw vast changes in the lives and roles of women in society.  Born in 1864 she received a solid Victorian upbringing, lived through the time of the women’s suffrage movement, and died in 1939, just as WWII loomed on the horizon, ready to shake everything up all over again. Born into an influential and well known family in the town, she was very much part of the emerging middle class.

You’d think being born during the reign of a female monarch might have helped Florence and women in general, but Queen Victoria was strongly opposed to the suffrage movement, suggesting those involved needed whipping, and describing women as a ‘poor feeble sex.’  Much of the inequality women faced stemmed from this widely held belief that women were inferior, or that at best they were suited to a very different range of tasks.The Victorians were very fond of the theory of ‘separate spheres’, that men and women were very different and each had a separate set of skills.

" I drew in the morning had class in the afternoon"
- Florence Straw 13 Feb 1880

Florence was sent away to boarding school, something that was still fairly unusual for women at the time as mandatory education for girls aged 5-10 was only introduced in 1870. The subjects Florence studied were however, somewhat limited.  Needlework, drawing, dancing and singing were the staple subjects, nothing too academic as it was still believed that if a woman was allowed to become too educated she would become unmarriageable.

Painting and sketching were deemed suitable pastimes of women
One of Florence Straws pencil sketches
Painting and sketching were deemed suitable pastimes of women

Stepping outside the box, Florence didn’t marry until the age of 32. She was protected by the 1882 Married Women’s Property Act which ensured she kept her possessions going into the marriage, and could own property. Prior to this Act, the woman and all her possessions became her husband's. She enjoyed a degree of freedom in her marriage, keeping house and prior to her marriage taught the piano and at a Sunday School. She was a strong lady, stepping outside of societal norms, however we have no evidence she was involved in the suffrage movement.

The wedding photo of Florence and William Straw
Florence and William Snr on their wedding day
The wedding photo of Florence and William Straw

During her lifetime Florence witnessed a huge amount of upheaval as the role of women morphed and society changed.  Born at a time when a woman was still considered property and everything from the law to her style of dress was used to keep her in her place, she lived to see the day when women could vote on equal footing with men, own property and receive a degree.  Society took a huge leap forward and it must have been an exciting time to be alive.