Forget the stereotype of demur, corset-wearing, tea-drinking Victorian women. Women in the 19th century played many roles beside the quiet child raisers of far too many films. Here’s a glimpse of how some women spent their steampunk era lives, as scientists, criminals, activists, and even soldiers.

  • Last month, the Guardian had an interesting story about the women’s forgotten role in science history: The Royal Society’s Lost Women Scientists.
  • More recently, they had another bit about women in history, this time about the all-female 40 Elephants gang: Girl Gang’s Grip on London Underworld Revealed. (Thanks to Paul Jessup.)

  • From the 1860s to the 1880s, women in Britain had to live in fear of the so-called Contagious Disease Acts, which would allow any woman accused of being a prostitute to be forcibly “inspected.” Consent to the tacit admission of prostitution, which meant regular inspection, but refusal could lead to prison. Over the 20 years the acts were in effect, a women-led uprising against them grew until they were suspended in 1884 and repealed in 1886. A horrific, but fascinating story described in the above link.
  • It may surprise many people, steampunk or otherwise, that there were female soldiers in the American Civil War. Often disguised as men and only discovered after their deaths, these women fought alongside their male counterparts and acquitted themselves honorably.

So, the next time you need to write a Victorian women, let your imagination roam free.