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"Spinster of Arts - The Terrible Problem of Higher Education for Women" - Punch Visualises the Problem

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  • Education


Punch customarily pursued a lighthearted and somewhat simplistic approach in its general representation of women. However, the particular question of women's higher education, which was circulating in the cultural debates of the 1860s and 1870s, elicited very complex reactions, both from the public and from within the journal itself, and initially Punch seemed loath to commit itself fully to exploring these more serious issues. This article discusses ways in which Punch appeared gradually to overcome or, at least, accommodate its own ambivalence about the impact of the debate without abandoning the methodology that made the journal so popular. Examining a variety of relevant cartoons and narrative pieces, it is proposed that Punch insinuated a measure of subtle but honest appraisal into its responses, not only capturing and reflecting the public sentiment but, consciously or not, illuminating the domestic challenges of the question still further.

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