Men led, but women organized

Another one from The Angel out of the House:

Sensibility posed a dilemma for men, claims Barker-Benfield [in The Culture of Sensibility], because they were caught between an older definition of manhood characterized by disorder and violence and a newer version that was more ‘decent’ but also less discernable from what was defined as ‘feminine.’ Barker-Benfield implies that men’s participation in philanthropic associations was one way to reconcile this dilemma. By joining together to raise subscriptions for charitable purposes, men of business could distinguish themselves from an older corrupt male culture, demonstrate their sympathy and public spirit, and bond together with other men of sympathy in groups that resembled old-styled clubs without duplicating the perceived excesses of such male assemblies; in addition, participating in philanthropic associations could be an effective way of making business contacts or of establishing a reputation that would enhance a man’s business affairs. Thus joining philanthropic causes was a suitably masculine way for a man to exhibit his sympathetic nature. Barker-Benfield’s contention that participation in philanthropic institutions could resolve men’s difficulties with being both sympathetic and masculine helps to explain why women were largely excluded from such participation throughout much of the eighteenth century, despite their traditional association with sympathy and charity.”

…And, of course, men were more likely to have ready access to the money needed for financial contributions to charity. Elliott goes on to say:

“The historian Donna T. Andrew does note the names of many women on subscription lists [“subscription” being the contemporary word for a charitable donation] and identifies the charities to which they were most likely to contribute. Published philanthropic writings, especially charity sermons, provide further evidence of eighteenth-century women’s participation in philanthropy by explicitly addressing women and soliciting their donations. Focusing primarily on women’s financial contributions to philanthropic institutions, however, tends to obscure the kind of charitable contribution that consisted of time and personal energy rather than money. This less historically visible kind of charity, as Andrew mentions, became more and more significant to society’s understanding of philanthropy as the century progressed–and it was also the kind of charity that women had been practicing for centuries.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.