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As the recent ‘#MeToo’ movement brought out some dirty truth about women harassment, it forces us to reflect on how women in the earlier centuries dealt with harassment. The time of 18th and 19th century was indeed difficult for women. They were regarded as second-class people and had no right for education, voting, and many other things. However, women found a way to be heard and seen. This blog will further discuss on this.

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How was life for the women in the eighteenth century?

In the history of America, women have always tolerated mistreatment in the workplace silently. Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth century, sexual coercion was a part of life for the female slaves of the South. This was also common for the domestic workers of the North.

In the 18th Century Britain, it was not allowed for women to attend university, and they were restricted from joining any profession. During this century, the working women of this country were mostly employed as domestic servants. This profession made the boundaries between the personal and professional lives of women quite unclear. These servants used to live with their masters and faced sexual pressure from everywhere, starting from their male masters to the male servants. Rape was also something that happened frequently. The female servants hid their pregnancies and had to deal with the whole process of giving birth alone.

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Literature-A means for the 18th Century women to be heard and seen

It is said that through reading, we can connect others and get support in critical times. The 18th century English literature also portrays some excellent examples of writers who were determined to break the cultural silence on women who were abused and harassed.


Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded

In 1700, examples of sexual assaults faced by female servants were written in non-fiction and fiction prose. Samuel Richardson, a leading novelist of the 18th century, wrote a story named ‘Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded’ about workplace harassment. It was a bestseller in 1740.

In this book, the protagonist Pamela constantly repels her employer, who tries to assault her sexually. Slowly, Pamela sees the complete extent of her employer’s evil intentions. She avoids the worst plans of her master and transforms him into her husband. This novel portrays an astounding story of a working teenager protecting herself against a very powerful man.

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Fantomina, Or, Love in a Maze

The well-known writer Eliza Haywood published Fantomina, Or, Love in a Maze in 1725. It is a short novel where the main female character is being sexually coerced by an immoral man. The protagonist takes four different disguises to see how the man may interact with each persona.

In her another book, Haywood also shared strategies for the female servants to avoid inappropriate gestures from males, including gentleman lodgers, masters, and masters’ sons in the concluding part of her 1743 self-help guide.

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Other initiatives

The printed trials from the Old Bailey, the Central Criminal Court of England and Wales, documented the suffering tales of the women workers. This is the only platform that let women servants speak for themselves. 

There were no formal reports of the harassments faced by the 18th century-women- but all the documented stories (both fiction and non-fiction) drew enough attention to the troubles faced by the working women. In 1739, the Foundling Hospital was established by Thomas Coram for the children of the deprived or underprivileged mothers, including illegitimate children.

In conclusion

The hospital or charity cases of that time could not do much to protect the working women from getting abused at the workplace. However, the literary world provided with several platforms for the harassed women to be heard and seen.


Author’s Bio

Rocky Starnes is a History professor currently associated with an Ivy League institution and offers his assistance through He also regularly contributes to reputed online History journals. Apart from this, he is a PMP certified professional recently he is indulged in Paraphrasing Tool development project