The Women at Peterloo: The Impact of Female Reform on the Manchester Meeting of 16 August 1819
Article first published online: 30 MAR 2004
Volume 89, Issue 294, pages 209–232, April 2004
How to Cite
Bush, M. L. (2004), The Women at Peterloo: The Impact of Female Reform on the Manchester Meeting of 16 August 1819. History, 89: 209–232. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-229X.2004.00298.x
- Issue published online: 30 MAR 2004
- Article first published online: 30 MAR 2004
Central to the Peterloo Massacre in 1819 was the high public profile of working-class women who attended the parliamentary reform meeting that preceded it in all-female contingents, carrying their own flags, distinctively dressed in white and with their own women leaders prominently displayed on the speakers’ platform. In the circumstances, the military's brutal attack on the crowd appeared to be incited, among other things, by a sense of manhood under serious threat from this provocative female presence. As well as studying what happened to the women and why, this article examines the motivation behind their commitment to reform. In a novel manner, the women challenged the traditional relationship between gender and politics by insisting upon a political organization of their own; yet they were also ready to accept the Radical Reform programme even though it excluded them from the vote. Arguably the politicization of women evident at Peterloo caused a transformation of the political system, by ensuring that in future the cause of reform would be distinguished by a dynamic female engagement. As a result, British politics came to be radically altered by women long before feminism made its mark.