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Advent Definitions: Domestic angels?

By Helen F Biggs, on 4 December 2017

‘Angel’, in: R 221 DICTIONARIES WEBSTER 1869 : Webster, The people’s dictionary of the English language (London, [1869?])

It’s fascinating to see that in Webster angels are defined as both godly and evil spirits, but what really piqued my interest is the idea of being angelic – “partaking of their nature or dignity”. It immediately brought to mind one of the other items in our collections:

A is the Angel woman should be

Waiting to pour out her husband’s tea:

“Better than man” the Antis say-

But the better half has got to obey

These words may sound like they’re promoting woman as a domestic figure, but in fact they’re from the satirical Anti-Suffrage Alphabet, which playfully imitates a rhyming children’s alphabet book to ridicule the arguments used by anti-suffrage campaigners. One such argument was that a wife and mother was the moral centre of a household, and that this role would be diminished or corrupted if she took a more active role in public life. The Alphabet’s creators contend that this supposed moral purity was already compromised, as a husband was meant to be the final decision-maker in all non-domestic matters, whatever a woman’s own beliefs and values were.

The Alphabet is held as part of the Laurence Housman Collection, which will feature heavily in next year’s Main Library exhibition “Dangers and delusions”? Perspectives on the woman’s suffrage movement, set to open February 2018.

For more daily Advent-inspired definitions from our Rare English Dictionaries collection, follow @UCLSpecColl on Twitter.

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