The Scientific Housewife: Gender, Material Culture and the Middle-Class Kitchen in England, c. 1870-1914

Katie Carpenter

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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In the Victorian and Edwardian periods, women were encouraged to embrace science and technology in domestic labour, an ideology which I call ‘scientific housewifery’. This thesis explores this ideology by looking at the middle-class kitchen in England in the period 1870 to 1914. I examine how scientific knowledge and behaviour was linked to daily tasks such as cooking, cleaning and the management of domestic servants, and how this contradicted and challenged gendered norms and traditional ideals of domesticity.

I use a range of textual and material primary sources, mainly domestic advice manuals, autobiographies, advertisements, objects and records from schools, to explore the representation and experience of science in housework. I pay particular attention to the material culture of the kitchen and how its depiction was shaped by popular ideas about the kitchen as a scientific space. I also consider how contemporary notions of domesticity were fashioned outside the home, by an examination of schools for middle-class girls.

I show that middle-class women were exposed to science and technology through domestic life in the nineteenth century, earlier than previous scholarship has suggested, which has focussed on the twentieth. Although scientific housewifery was a gendered construct, based on the premise that a woman’s rightful place was home, this thesis demonstrates that it also allowed women some agency in the fashioning and expression of their identities. Thus, an expert, professional femininity was already in formation in the Victorian period. I highlight the importance of the kitchen to the middle-class woman’s daily life and gender identity, despite concerns about social etiquette and degradation by housework, and establish the importance of the material culture to scientific housewifery.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hamlett, Jane, Supervisor
Award date1 Mar 2019
Publication statusUnpublished - 2019


  • material culture
  • Kitchen
  • Victorian
  • Edwardian
  • marmalade cutter
  • kitchenalia
  • science
  • domesticity
  • housewife
  • housework
  • housewifery
  • domestic servant
  • domestic service
  • cleaning
  • cooking
  • scientific management
  • technology
  • middle-class home
  • gender
  • women
  • mistress
  • class
  • identity
  • home
  • middle-class

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