educated and free from some of the worst customs of the society – child
marriage, sati, polygyny, etc. But at the same time, these new women would
be devoted to home and family.
“New Woman” of Late Nineteenth Century
New Concept of Womanhood During the course of the nineteenth century,
the pattern of women’s lives began to change. In reality, the concept of the
“perfect wife” was being redefined.
First, there were modifications in the appropriate activities for a female at
different stages of her life.
Second, the appropriate arena for female action was expanded.
And third, there was a new and growing approval of individualism.
Separation of Work from Home As a consequence of changes set in
motion by the British conquest of India, by the end of the nineteenth century,
there were a number of women who were educated, articulate, mobile and
increasingly involved in public activities. In the rural setting, life was
dominated by the household – for both men and women. With increased
urbanisation and the growth of new professions associated with colonial
domination, work was increasingly separated from the home.
Establishment of New Types of Institutions Paralleling this change was
the establishment of new educational, religious and social institutions. As
families moved from their village homes to the cities, they increased their
contact with “foreigners” and witnessed the erosion of traditional household
activity. Like boys of an earlier generation, some of these girls attended
educational institutions, social gatherings unrelated to family affairs, and new
religious ceremonies. These “new women” were part of a modernising
movement which sought to modify gender relations in the direction of greater
equality between men and women.
Changes in Beliefs and Practices Many of the “new women” were
educated in their homes and then sent to a girls’ school. Parents who cared
about female education waited until their daughters were older before
arranging their marriages or occasionally allowed young married women to
continue their education.
Older brides became mothers at a later age and often played a greater role in