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‘Yours Humbly, Sincerely, and Obediently’? The Social Agency of Lone Women’s Petitions c.1789-1850.

LONG, CARRIE,IRENE,ELIZABETH (2024) ‘Yours Humbly, Sincerely, and Obediently’? The Social Agency of Lone Women’s Petitions c.1789-1850. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Author-imposed embargo until 26 February 2025.


This thesis studies the personal petitions of lone women across three archival collections - the Home Office, the Admiralty, and the Poor Law authorities. It compares the experiences and survival strategies of the wives of convicts and the deserted wives and widows of mariners, across class lines and throughout Britain in the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries. Petitions are used to gain insights into the lives of lone women, in their own words, at several challenging points of their lifecycle, from young motherhood to elderly widowhood. This thesis shows that lone women often shared a belief in their entitlement to relief from the state following the loss of their breadwinner through naval service or criminal transportation and that they applied for pensions, parochial relief, clemency, and free passage. This discussion highlights that lone women’s reliance on discretionary welfare meant they were able to exert their agency and influence institutional decisions through their negotiations and appeals to authorities. This is achieved by categorising and comparing their petitioning strategies, including emotional and linguistic appeals, bargaining, knowledge sharing, and networking.

This research is structured around the experiences of lone women and the responses of multiple state authorities. The first two chapters examine the wives of convicts and naval widows to compare their socio-economic experiences following the loss of a breadwinner, assessing their petitioning practices and treatment by authorities, alongside the challenges faced in terms of class and social expectations. The third and fourth chapters further develop understandings of lone women’s survival strategies in reference to long-term familial support and the pressures from the moral policing of the wider community and institutions. Collectively, by assessing the negotiations between lone women and authorities, this research addresses wider themes of class, age, motherhood, respectability, and stigma, developing scholarly understanding of how clerks and officials shaped welfare decisions.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Keywords:petitions, lone women, maritime, welfare, pensions, widows
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > History, Department of
Thesis Date:2024
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:27 Feb 2024 10:37

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