Much wanted a Reform among females!!!
The occasion for the print was the emergence of a number of Female Reform Societies in several towns in the North and Midlands in the summer of 1819. These societies were certainly novel and nothing similar had been seen before. At the same time, as Paul Custer points out, their rhetoric – replete with references to home, hearth, loom, cottage and children – was not so distinctive. There were groups and meetings of ‘Female Reformers’ organised in Blackburn, Stockport, Manchester, and Leigh. In the latter case, the reformers held a meeting five days before Peterloo at which those on the platform took turns to don a cap of liberty. The reaction of elite observers was uniformly hostile, but the presence of women in Northern communities and their involvement in the industries hit hard by the end of the war meant that they were regarded as a natural component of the protest scene. For example, they appeared alongside Henry Hunt on the platform in Manchester in January 1819, and caps of liberty (included in the image here, though satirised by the inuendo associated with the pole on which it is displayed) became a common feature of meetings.
J Lewis Mark’s 1819 satire ‘Much wanted a Reform among females!!!’, depicts female reformists as hyper-feminised and hyper-sexualised. It is demonstrative of the popular attitudes towards female emancipation and the undermining of their visibility in popular politics. Depicting both an elderly husband’s abusive attitude towards his wife, and a younger man’s sexual advances towards one of the women in the audience, it intends to undercut the aims of the reformers to use their ideas of reforms to aid both themselves and their husbands. By 1817 Parliament had passed the Habaeus Corpus Act to counter the rising tide of the radical working class movements. Those imprisoned were predominantly from industrialised towns in the Midlands and the North. The emergence of women as leaders in the radical working class movements between 1817 and 1818, as male leaders were imprisoned, is illustrative of their entry into the public sphere and popular politics.
Demonstrating the intersections between class and gender that became apparent in the radical class working class movement, the 'political domesticity' amongst working class women’s activism, is apparent as they used their positions as wives and mothers to support the patriarchs of their family. In manoeuvring between the domestic sphere of their home and the public sphere in their political activism, they could appeal to the wider political field with far less scrutiny. NOnetheless, Marks attempts to subvert their claims throug none too subtle innuendo: ‘Though we should be start [sic] naked, we could make the whole Army Stand!—It is our duty as Wives to assist our Husbands in every Push and Turn, by that means we shall Increase, and Multiply, in our under takings’. And, as in the elderly man abusing his wife in "Come home and get Dinner ready you Old Baggage I'll Reform you.", there is a consistent reduction of women to sexual objects and undermining of their political activism. The context of the print was based in a period of summer 1819, where there was an emergence of a number of Female Reform Societies in several towns in the North and Midlands.