ISSUE 5.2 (SUMMER 2009)


“Army, Navy, Medicine, Law,/ Church, Nobility, Nothing at all”:
Towards the Study of Gender, the Professions and the Press in the Nineteenth Century

By Andrew King, Canterbury Christ Church University


<1>The (probably twentieth-century) nursery rhyme of my title allows a neat point of entry into an overview of the study of gender and the nineteenth-century professions, and of their textual appearance in the press.(1)  At once we see that the rhyme lists the four traditional professions of the church, law, medicine and the army (until the mid-nineteenth century, the navy was too associated with undisciplined piracy to be considered a profession).  But the paratactic addition of “Nobility” and Nothing at all” adds the piquancy of ambiguity to the previous bald inventory.  If one can choose one’s profession, in what sense can one choose a career as a member of the nobility?  Perhaps the juxtaposition implies that one is born into a profession rather than made into one, as one is born into the nobility: profession is destiny (cf. De Beauvoir’s famous dictum).  And what does “Nothing at all” mean?  Does it refer to a beggar or merely to someone of independent means who has no need to work?  Whatever the answer, the phrase implies that all the previous entail an economic element, juxtaposing those with work or income from land and those without.  Finally, who is the nursery rhyme addressed to? It is a commonplace that the traditional professions were set up as exclusively male with a strong patrilineal element in professional recruitment (sons either following fathers or entering a neighbouring profession).  That may go some way to answering the question of whether one is born into a profession.  Applied to the nineteenth century, all the first five words must be addressed primarily to boys; girls had the option only to “do well for themselves” out of becoming noble or attaining independence from work through marriage, like Lizzie Greystock in Trollope’s Eustace Diamonds.  That was their “profession”.

<2>Already this essay opens itself to the charge of reducing very complex realities to flat generalities.  What follows will seek to refine those statements about gender and the professions by looking at the elements I drew out from the rhyme: economics, gender identities, the question of “birth” and the professions’ relation to “nobility”.  However, I aim to explore not the detail or nuance but the general ways in which we might continue study of the nineteenth-century “professions” and their relation to gender, both through representation in and production of (mainly) periodicals, without duplicating those suggestions I have made elsewhere. (King, “Professions”)  While owing an enormous debt to recent studies of the professions and partly taking inspiration from them, I take a different tack.  Such interesting interventions as Ruth’s self-reflexive study proposed “to reserve ‘professional’ to designate those efforts performed under the relatively autonomous conditions that foster creativity [with the] intent … not to restrict creative labor to the traditionally defined professions – law, medicine, and so on – but to universalize an idea associated with the professions.” (25) I seek to restrict the term “professional” rather than universalize it, while historicizing its undoubted semantic instability.

<3>A brief outline of how I shall be conceiving of gender here is necessary before going further. Taking my cue from Raewyn Connell, I regard gender as “above all, a matter of social relations within which individuals and groups act.” (9)  It is, more specifically, “the structure of social relations that centres on the reproductive arena, and the set of practices (governed by this structure) that bring reproductive distinction between bodies into social processes.” (Connell 10, emphasis original)  It is possible to deduce from Connell that gender has two major relational components, one negative and the other positive.  The negative definition, inherited from the conception of gender as difference, concerns that what a gender is not.  Thus masculinity is differentiated from femininity. This manifests itself through the social processes of men’s exclusion of women and the rejection of traits associated with women.  The other, positive, component of gender brings into play the social processes involved in homosociality.  Both aspects will be addressed here.

<4>In the terms set by this essay, how was a professional man supposed to behave in relation to other men?  How was he supposed to feel, what was he to think and say?  Priti Joshi, in her case study of Edwin Chadwick, and John Tosh and James Eli Adams more generally have shown that the relationship between masculinity and the practice of a profession was not always easy.  Several of the essays here (Harrison, Huelman, Mussell) confirm this, offering understandings of professional masculinities at different times and places. Similar but hardly the same questions apply to women seeking employment in a profession where men predominate, with the added complication of visible, biological and legal difference. Hadjiafxendi, Shelley, McNeely and Moody offer various ways women and/ in the professions can be studied.  What is interesting about all of them is that, while economic differentials are acknowledged, none take economics as their point of departure in the way many second generation feminists did.

Gender, Professions and Economics

<5>In a recent study by Joyce Burnett on the nitty-gritty of Gender, Work and Wages in Industrial Revolution Britain (reviewed in this issue of NCGS), however, there is a return to the analysis of pay differentials and gender. Burnett’s conclusion is rather startling: in the nineteenth-century, she says, gendered pay differentials were the result of market forces and not gender prejudice. Since strength was important in most jobs, she contends, women were disadvantaged and so earned less because they were less productive. Logically enough, women were directed to occupations where wages were least dependent on strength: the resultant occupational segregation was not the cause of the wage gap, Burnett claims, but a method of minimizing it. She goes on to show how workers with scarce skills and thus some monopoly power – the professions are prime examples of such occupations (cf. Dingwall 63-4)  — sought to maintain their monopoly by excluding women. Thus male physicians edged out female midwives by convincing the public that formal education made physicians more skilled. Teaching at the primary level, on the other hand, remained open to women precisely because it was not professionalized. “While men often used gender ideology to justify the exclusion of women, the real cause of their actions was economic” Burnett writes, (327) and concludes with the assertion that competition in the workplace was (and is) beneficial for women: “Institutions such as the law and family were more likely to be swayed by gender ideology, but competition was blind.” (330) Careful to mark out her work from older Whig readings of the spread of professionalization as a continuation of enlightenment progress and the triumph of the market (such as those famous studies by Carr-Saunders and Wilson in the 1930s, and Reader in the 1960s), she distinguishes “competition” from the operation of traditionally laissez faire and capitalist policies since the latter two always involve monopolies. She ends, logically therefore, with a plea for affirmative action intended to reduce men’s monopoly power.

<6>Burnett’s is a heavily economistic analysis. While making an important contribution to the study of gender in the (long) nineteenth century, it raises again the old question of what gender actually is.  Statements such as “When male workers sought to limit the supply of labor to their occupations, gender ideology guided them to target women” (p. 330) seem to posit gender as a social category and determinant secondary to the economy, not a primary one.  Yet such a hierarchy of forces does not explain why, if economic monopoly was the desired goal, it was not maintained within the class by the induction into the profession of the daughters of lawyers or architects or accountants as well as sons.  For the doxa that the professions remained powerful bastions of male privilege throughout the nineteenth century is undoubtedly true.  The triumphs of women in certain professions have received disproportionate treatment: women in the medical profession have received repeated attention, everyone being aware that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson was the first British woman to qualify through the Society of Apothecaries in 1865.  But the inroads even in medicine were small: the 1881 Census records only 29 women doctors in the UK.  By 1911 there were still only 662 (and 29, 873 male doctors).  The same Census records just one woman lawyer, none in the Army, 19 women accountants and 12 women dentists (Holloway 118). Overwhelmingly, the gendering of the professions was masculine.

<7>If this is an easy claim to make, a trickier question concerns the occupations the term “profession” referred to.  In previous paragraphs I have mentioned medicine, the law, engineering, the church, architecture and accounting, all of which today would be considered professions. The nineteenth century is commonly regarded as the great age of professionalization, when more and more occupations came to be included under the category, and the evidence bears this out.  While we may all agree that physicians in the nineteenth century could be considered – broadly speaking — “professionals”, nonetheless we must ask how valid it is to use the term of those other workers discussed in this special issue: journalists, writers, musicians, scientists, gardeners.

When is a profession not a profession?

<8> Despite Johnson’s definition of “profession” in 1755 as “calling, known employment, vocation; declaration, opinion” there were in his time just four legitimate professions: the nursery rhyme’s military, and the three learned or “liberal” ones of medicine, law and the church.  A hundred years later, the term had come to include other occupations.  An oft-cited text in the historical study of the professions, Henry Byerley Thomson’s 1857 advice manual for parents about their sons’ future, The Choice of a Profession, like so many succeeding studies, starts from an admission of the term’s volatile import. It means different things in different places as well as different times.  In French and German, wrote Thomson on his first page, the term was used for almost any occupation, even “low” ones, while the English usage was much more restricted.  Yet Thompson included in his guide not only the traditional “Divines, lawyers, medical men, officers in the army” but also “officers in the navy, persons in the higher branches of the civil service of the crown, painters, and sculptors, architects, engineers, actuaries, &c., musicians, and actors, educators, and men of letters.”  He also went on to refer to borderline cases which he does not subsequently discuss, the “many callings, professional in character, but too confined in their operations to be noticed here — such as linguistics, average calculators, agricultural chemists, &c”. (Thomson 3-4).  It seems “the professionalization of everyone”, which the sociologist Wilensky influentially posited in 1964, had already begun.

<9>A key tool for any analysis of the history of work in Britain must be the decennial Census.(2)  Whether Censuses are to be regarded as ‘periodicals’ is a moot point. Certainly, they fit the definition as given in Beetham’s famous 1989 article.  A census a multi-authored publication that comes out at defined intervals, rendering obsolete the previous issue. It is a mixed-genre text whose generic ingredients can also lead independent existences, whose “form is … not only characteristically self-referring but is by definition open-ended and resistant to closure”, (97) a form “which openly offers readers the chance to construct their own texts.” (98)  Certainly too, the census takes into account reader response (cf. Beetham 99).  One can go further and say that, like Punch or The Times, it constitutes a bank of material that other publications could raid and reproduce.  It even generates “supplements”.  Be its status as it may, its importance to the topic of this special issue cannot be underestimated.  Like any widely reported sociological analysis, censuses not only describe a population but also have an effect on how that population thinks of itself, is thought of and is treated.  Censuses are not so much portraits of a nation as mirrors, with the interactive and mobilizing force, however distorting, that mirrors can have.

<10>The Census carried out in 1841 was the first to attempt a record and classification of the occupation of everyone in the nation, and censuses since then have given an official stamp to occupation titles and categories that previously have been embedded in custom, use, the obscure technical reaches of occupation-related law, or are new altogether.  While censuses constitute by no means the only authority on whether an occupation is to be categorized as a profession or not – various societies such as the Royal College of Surgeons (1800) and the Institute of Chartered Accountants (1880) fought to regulate nomenclature – the Censuses remain very significant.

<11>Readily acknowledging the conceptual difficulty of the undertaking, let alone the data collection itself, the pioneering 1841 Census emphasized regional variation in occupational concentration rather than national occupational trends. The term ‘professional’ was used in some tables but was not defined. It is thus not entirely clear what occupations are being referred to in those tables (one has to guess). Ten years later, the 1851 Census was much more thorough, asking for information about “rank, profession or occupation”. As Matthew Woollard puts it in an exemplary article on the hazards of taking census data at face vale:

In 1851, a new scheme was devised, in which occupations were grouped into 17 classes (and one additional for those with no stated occupation). These classes were broken down into 90 sub-classes (including those classes not sub-divided). (Woollard 2)

Significantly, the Census placed “professionals” at the head of the list of occupations as “Class I.”.  Later censuses used ever more refined data classification methods, but all retained the professions at the head of the occupations, even after the substantial changes to occupational categories made in 1881.

<12>The 1861 Report may stand as an example both of the classification used and the problems that arise from it, not least those that need to be faced for an account of gender and the professions. First amongst the professional “Class I.” are the “87,350 persons … engaged in the general or local government of the country,” then the Army and Navy, and finally, the “Third Order” comprising “262,663 persons in the learned professions, or engaged in literature, art, or science.” So far, so uncontentious: while it may be a surprise to see the government treated as a profession, one sees its logic: not only would the compilers of the Census want to see themselves at the head of the list but, like the traditional professions, rely on their brains as their main tool while their materials were pen and paper. But we must beware of the Census’s use of “profession”, as it was also used for occupations we should not now consider even remotely professional and were not generally considered so at the time, as the following extract from “Class I.” demonstrates:

The parish clerk is occupied in his church duties chiefly on Sundays; hence he has other secular occupations of more or less importance.  This is a striking example of double occupation; and of the officiating parish clerks of the kingdom only 2,140 are so returned, the others appearing under other heads.  So it is of sextons, or gravediggers, as they often call themselves.  1,087 sextons are returned, and 161 sextonesses, — who probably act by deputy.  The men of this Sub-order are 35,483, and the women 3,053.  Among the women are 585 nuns of all ages, 90 pupils at convents, 236 young sisters of charity or mercy, and 752 pew openers.  The female Scripture readers, religious teachers, and inmates of religious institutions are numerous. (Census Report 1861)(3)

<13>Not only are male gravediggers amongst “professionals”, but women gravediggers too (“sextonesses, — who probably act by deputy”). Then there are those “90 pupils at convents, 236 young sisters of charity or mercy, and 752 pew openers” as well as “female Scripture readers”. Beside the questions of how much any of these were paid and their social status, there is the evident problem of the “double occupation”. It may be, for example, that these men and women wished to present themselves as defined by these occupations whereas in fact their main income came from elsewhere.

<14>The 21 women in the “LAW SUB-ORDER” [sic] (34,991 persons in toto) are classed as professionals too, even though, as law stationers, they might easily have been classed as “trade” (there were 1,151 male law stationers).  More surprising is the inclusion of 2,446 women in the “MEDICAL SUB-ORDER (38,441 persons) of “Class I.” which altogether comprised 14,415 physicians, surgeons, and apothecaries at the head of the list. Of these three, at the beginning of the century, only physicians would have had an undisputed claim to the rank of leaned professions: the other two were closer to trade in the sense that one sold skilled handcraft and the other was involved in retail. By the 1860s, however, they had fought for and secured professional respectability (Harrison and Huelman show what was involved in this).  They are followed in the Census’s usual descending scale of status by groups of people of far more ambiguous status:

3,566 medical assistants and students, 1,567 dentists, and 16,026 chemists and druggists, including apprentices and assistants (3,388 of the age 10-20) …  [male] cuppers 10, officers of medical societies and agents 21, corn-cutters 56, professors of hydropathy and homoeopathy 27, herb doctors and patent medicine vendors 92, 82 medical botanists, 50 galvanists, 12 mesmerists, 21 bone-setters, 22 quack doctors, so returned, and 2 cancer doctors, besides others.  The women consist chiefly of druggists 388 and midwives 1,913.  (ibid.)

Commenting on midwives, “[t]hese women,” the Census report continued, “if properly instructed, are most useful, and otherwise they are dangerous.  Midwifery is a branch of medicine which women are quite competent to study; but there are cases requiring the utmost skill and judgment of the physician.”(ibid.)  If the 1861 classification is followed, then it would be more correct to say that women were admitted into the professions, but only at the very lowest levels.  But then we also have to admit apprentice and assistant chemists and druggists aged between 10 and 20 years old. The problems with using the Census uncritically are very apparent here. What is undeniable is the attempt to define a “professional” according to clear criteria, the publicity that the Census generated and the effects it had on public consciousness, even if only to provoke general reflection upon linguistic usage.

<15>There was also another category of worker often called “professional” not only according to the Census Report’s conceptual framework but also by the public at large: performers who sang or acted for money on the legitimate stage.  These had comprised both men and women since the Restoration in 1660 and had been referred to as “professionals” since at least the mid-eighteenth century in order to distinguish them both from amateurs and from non-legitimate performers such as street musicians.  The application of the term to performers was not considered serious until the mid-nineteenth century, however.  The 1861 Census Report made a point of saying that “literary men, artists, musicians, actors, teachers, and scientific men” were to be classed as “professionals” as a mark of “the progress of civilization”, but, again, we see the victory of administrative expediency over common usage when the Census lumps together the “prima donna” with “the wretched organ-grinder.”

<16>The idea that the “public writer” was a professional was not new in 1851 (“journalist” is admitted as a category in 1881, although “reporter” had appeared thirty years earlier).  But as late as 1831, Bulwer Lytton had to argue the case for considering “literature” as a “profession”, and even then he had to start from an acknowledgement that literature “cannot be guided with respect to it by the laws or the state of other professions” (Bulwer 229).  He claimed the term for writers as something of a shock tactic to argue for the founding of what would become the Royal Literary Fund which would grant pensions to writers.  His argument was that writers were “crusaders for their nation”, since through their contributions to the press they forged a national identity for readers.  In return, the nation (in this case the state) had a duty to protect them.  What is particularly interesting here is that Bulwer’s tactical use of the term relied on the idea that the professions heroically carried forward, even embodied, the idea of the nation, a notion much grander than earlier applications of the term to writers at periods when it was used more in the sense given in Johnson’s Dictionary as an employment.

<17>If before the 1851 Census and Thomson’s 1857 advice manual the term “professional” was already loosening so far as the occupations it referred to were concerned, there were limits.  Doctors (whether they be physicians, surgeons or apothecaries), writers of all sorts and musicians are all safely considered professionals. But nineteenth-century scientists were in a much more ambiguous position.  In the 1851 Census, 491 “Scientific Persons” were recorded and the term was carried over in later censuses.  But what did “Scientific Persons” do?  In his history of Chemists by Profession, Russell (29) points out that in the 1851 Census, “Chemist (manufacturing)” included both employers and labourers, and the term was placed in the ‘Industrial Class” in 1861 while “Chemists and Druggists,” were dropped into the “Professional Class”. The censuses are of no help in tracing the history of the occupation of chemist, Russell concludes, and turns to other data. Mussell in the present issue is clear on what a “professional” scientist might be, even while he rejects the term and (especially) the linear narrative that “professionalization” implies: laboratory-based experiments and acknowledgement by others in the domain, gained through publication allied with an apparent sacrifice of agency so as to produce a specific kind of apparently genderless narrative identity.

<18>If scientists occupy a tricky position vis-à-vis the professions, then the gardeners of Moody’s article seemingly do not.  The censuses unhesitatingly classed them under “Agricultural Labourers” not “Class I.”  But who is a gardener?  Woollard (8) warned that the term “gardener” might refer to a domestic servant or to someone who worked in a market garden.  This is of less concern here that how Moody shows that gardening came to be an activity – rather than an occupation – that was projected as a part of the emerging middle-class lifestyle that defined the modern professional.  The actual profession qua occupation she describes as performed by Jane and John Loudon is that of woman and man of letters.  Yet she convincingly shows how their versions of the gardener must be thought of as “professional” in the sense of a subset of the professional artist, the creator of beautiful things that reflect and promote an ideal moral order in natural space, combined with the natural scientist.  

“… Nobility, Nothing at all”: The Nineteenth-Century Professional’s Eighteenth-Century Inheritance

<19>If the occupations the term “professional” referred to were becoming more numerous, the term became more specific in other ways. These new meanings are summed up by how the professions were placed at the head of the “occupations” in the censuses.  To understand what was at stake, it is necessary to go back to the time when the learned professions numbered just three and were exclusively masculine.

<20>Throughout the eighteenth century and indeed beyond, the learned professional was often a landowner, be he clergyman, doctor or lawyer.  This lent a man a particular status whatever other occupation he pursued.  The landed professional was, before he was a professional, if not quite a member of the nobility – one recalls the nursery rhyme —  at least a gentleman who, as a physician or lawyer, rendered his social equals a service (practicing amongst the poor was considered charity if done at all. And, anyway, the poor could not afford their fees).  There were, as a result, elaborate rituals to avoid direct payment to him, a client’s servant sending money to a physician’s servant and so on.  Such a professional was trusted to practice precisely because he was gently born and bred and had received training at a socially respectable institution, usually Oxford or Cambridge universities.  This was as much the case with medicine as with divinity.

<21> Unlike today, a professional was trusted because he was gently born and appeared financially secure independently of the services he rendered, and not because of his control over a specific domain of knowledge that was closed to the layperson.  Smith commented on how the income derived from the exercise of a profession was less important than the “public admiration” earned from it (92).  This clearly differentiated the services of professional physician from those of the village midwife and herbalist or even the surgeon whose dependence on money was all too clear.  It can also be argued that it constituted a very material prototype of the nineteenth-century cosmopolitan “disinterest” and “detachment” whose varied tone in selected literary texts Amanda Anderson has illuminated: the professional had no financial interest in the practice of his occupation and so was able to consider his clients’ problems dispassionately.

<22>However, the gentleman professional’s independence was illusory not only because of its involvement with economics, however disavowed. For hundreds of years, patronage was essential to gain entry into a profession, which might mean that the professional was indebted to someone for a recommendation.  Adam Smith commented on this with reference to university teachers. (623) Four decades later, an 1834 Select Committee showed that the Royal College of Physicians refused to admit anyone who was not a graduate of Oxford or Cambridge even though neither university offered medical education.  After a degree in the liberal arts, a man became a Physician after a cursory oral examination conducted in Latin.  Clearly, this excluded women and also those men who had not had the social connections and financial capital to gain a degree for which intellectual attainment was not a priority. The Whig historian of the professions, W.J. Reader, was only echoing nineteenth-century acknowledgement of this when he wrote that “[f]amily connections, together with the influence of the Royal Colleges, and to some extent parliamentary considerations, dominated the coveted appointments to London hospitals which could be the basis of wide and fashionable practice.” (20)  T.C. Morgan in 1841 remarked the vital importance of patronage to secure any appointment in the Church, Law, and Indian Civil Service, and to a large extent this was the case throughout the nineteenth century: Matthew Arnold’s letters, for example, show that he unashamedly exploited the patronage system to secure appointments for his family in the 1880s (his personal actions contradicting those public statements of his praised by Anderson).(4)

<23>It is hardly controversial to state that for all its complications in other areas, hegemonic masculinity was wealthy and independent and that if obligated for a favour or recommendation, it risked compromise.  How could a man demonstrate his masculinity first when he had to work and secondly when his work depended so very much on his social connections?  Roy Porter regales us with hilarious stories of the imperious demands by patients of their doctors and how “prudent practitioners learned the arts of pleasing – even bowing and scraping – in accordance with the expectations of polite society.” (150)  The professional risked being treated and perceived as a dependent parasitic buffoon or servant rather than as a gentleman. Traces of this attitude are legible in The Wealth of Nations. Adam Smith did not even allow the professions to contribute to the economy in his analysis, dismissing them instead as “unproductive” (the rhyme’s “Nothing at all” in another sense).  He lumped together “churchmen, lawyers, physicians, men of letters of all kinds, players, buffoons, musicians, opera-singers, opera-dancers, etc.” and went on: “[l]ike the declamation of the actor, the harangue of the orator, or the tune of the musician, the work of all of them perishes in the very instant of its production.” (271).  His work ephemeral and unproductive, with an ambiguous relation to the circulation of money, the professional does not appear to Smith to be a model for the homo economicus

“the head of the great English middle class”

<24>Trollope has been the focus of key chapters by Ruth and Goodlad in recent literary/cultural studies analyses of the Victorian professions, with particular emphasis on his writing about the Civil Service. For all that the Census may have positioned the civil service at the head of the professional class, Trollope was much exercised by the possible damage to masculinity suffered by his own main profession. The principal marker of masculinity for him in an article in an 1861 Cornhill Magazine, was, perhaps unsurprisingly, “independence” from both financial considerations and patronage. Contrasting the still patronage-ridden Civil Service with what he claimed was the achieved independence of the other professions, he wrote that in the former:

men enter… by favour; but do not so enter most of the other professions. An appointment is given; so also, indeed, is a living, and so are many commissions in the army, and so were all appointments, military and civil, in India. But by this gift, an idea of obligation is engendered; and a man is, or may be, taught to suppose that he has incurred a favour in being allowed to earn his bread after this fashion, and that he should pay for this favour (Trollope 10)

<25>Patronage diminished a professional’s masculinity. But through hard work and the sacrifice of self-interested, trade-like economics, manliness might be restored:

It is however in your power to reverse the matter altogether. [sic]  and to place the balance clearly on the right side. For every half-crown that you receive be careful to give work to the value of three and sixpence, and then do not care a straw for any man… That you may obtain your object, — that manly independence without which no profession can be pleasant, it is not necessary that all the world should know the amount of return you make. It is only necessary that one man should know it;  — and that one man will always know it. I need not tell you who that one should be. (Trollope 11-12)

By giving three-and-sixpence’s work for the half-crown one is paid for it, one becomes a gentleman professional again, independent of favour or finance. In a kind of anti-economics, it is as if work were a charitable act that one pays to perform: a version of noblesse oblige.(5) Contradicting the public nature of his article, Trollope suggests that the magical restoration will wear off if one speaks one’s sacrifice.  In a curious sacrifice of the speaking subject, it is essential to be silent, and let one’s silence speak for itself.

<26>The Civil Service was different from what Trollope called “open professions” in another respect too, again potentially compromising of one’s manhood. For the Civil Service’s hierarchical power structure rendered a man “subject to the censure and displeasure of another … [a]nd thus that independence and manliness, which should be the moving spirit of all trades, professions and callings whatever, is rendered difficult.” (Trollope 12) Trollope now offered a way out that borrowed explicitly from Christianity. Starting with the premise that the Civil Servant’s “chief obedience” was not to his superior but to his work, he went on to explain that such an attitude was not “menial” but rather “an obedience which is Godlike in its nature, and which is the very source and fountain spring of manly independence! Yes! The obedience of a man to his work…. If we cannot make this Civil Service of ours an independent profession, it will be from want of such obedience as that.” (Trollope 14-15)  A manly professional was one who sacrificed himself in obedience to a higher will.  His model was Christ.

<27>The final major challenge to masculine independence was a desire for promotion that might lead to toadying and relapse into obligation. Again the manly response to this was silent maintenance of independence: “Manhood depends on our own exertions. It is for each man to feel individually that he will do nothing to obtain promotion; — nothing but the one thing — nothing but deserving it.” (Trollope 18)

<28>While a specific response to specific reforms in his profession – the Civil Service was introducing competitive examinations for posts for the first time  — Trollope’s essay is also an unusually clear and concise exposé of the gender anxieties the professional male could feel, its deployment of moral and religious tropes to defend and define professional masculinity typical by the early 1860s. By this time, the professions had established themselves as the very models of masculine respectability, the moral guides of England: the lead occupation of the Census, “crusaders for the nation” indeed.  As Byerley Thompson wrote in 1857, they “form the head of the great English middle class, maintain its tone of independence, keep up to the mark its standard of morality, and direct its intelligence.” (5) 

<29>The Trollope article showed that, for the manly professional, the accomplishment of the task or the resolution of the problem at hand had to take at least equal place with personal gain, if not take precedence.  Personal pleasures and, indeed, one’s very self had to be foregone.  Byerley Thomson repeats again and again the notion that worldly reward will come through reasoned and reasonable self-sacrifice.  Such focus on the task or problem rather than on the self, will, in twentieth-century sociology, come to be called the “pubic service ideal”, a supposed core value in the definition of a profession which differentiates it from trade guilds whose interests were much more narrowly focussed on the interest of their members. (cf. Christensen et al. 8)  Already fully developed by the middle of the nineteenth, the roots of this service ideal are tangled and overdetermined by class, gender, and religion.

Augment --- and Discipline

<30>The connection of such an ideal to Christianity was repeatedly made in the nineteenth century, which itself can lead to multiple interpretations.  While again the Trollope is emblematic, a very different example occurs in a section of Herbert Spencer’s mammoth serial, Principles of Sociology, that came out in 1886.(6)  There, Spencer presented all the professions as deriving from the leisured and intellectual “priest-class”.  The professions may not be productive in the sense Adam Smith meant; they are, rather, more fundamental, since what really defines them, claimed Spencer, is their role in “the augmentation of life” itself. (180)  Not only do “medical men” augment life by warding off death, teachers increase life by preparing the young for future work, but “musical composers and performers… exalt the emotions and so increase life”.  Even the lawyer “by aiding the citizen to resist aggressions… thereby increases life”. (ibid.)  Indicative of the immense work of redefinition that had taken place in the century since Adam Smith, Herbert takes the contribution of even the performing professions to society far beyond the merely economic, and in some ways remarkably anticipates Foucault’s concept of the pastor.

<31>It has been a commonplace in the past few years to link the professions to Foucault’s notion of the “pastoral” form of the “apparatus of security” by which a man (something Foucault commentators in this field have sometimes forgotten) is required to look after his flock, and even sacrifice himself for its benefit if necessary.  Ben Golder’s elegant (and carefully if misleadingly gender-free) contextualisation of Foucault’s late lectures offers a useful summary:

Pastoral power was, Foucault tells us, characterized in the following way: first, it was exercised over a flock of people on the move rather than over a static territory; secondly, it was a fundamentally beneficent power according to which the duty of the pastor (to the point of self-sacrifice) was the salvation of the flock; and finally, it was an individualizing power, in that the pastor must care for each and every member of the flock singly ....  This last characteristic, Foucault observes, gives rise to what he calls the “paradox of the shepherd,” namely that because the pastor must care for the multiplicity as a whole while at the same time providing for the particular salvation of each (omnes et singulatim), there must necessarily be both a “sacrifice of one for all, and the sacrifice of all for one, which will be at the absolute heart of the Christian problematic of the pastorate” (Golder 165)

<32>Lauren Goodlad has brilliantly used this concept to analyze Trollope’s engagement with Civil Service reform and the professionalization of the Civil Service in his unpublished New Zealander and in Three Clerks (1858).(7)  In this, she was following the very large sociological literature which had employed the Foucauldian pastoral to discuss the professions — so pervasive has it become, indeed, that even introductory undergraduate texts explain it. (see e.g. Hook)  What Goodlad has done, however, is much more specifically anchor the notion of the “pastoral” in the lived experience of nineteenth-century Britain than many ostensibly empirical sociological studies have done.  She correctly claims that “pastorship was not a residuum of early modern history (as perhaps in [Foucault’s] France) but in nineteenth-century Britain a living and vexing issue involving moral dilemma, political controversy and conflicted social desire.” (20)  Indeed, in the fashion of Anderson, she shows it owed much to “classical, romantic and Evangelical philosophies of self-development” (26) in which ascetic and altruistic self-sacrifice played a key role.  In this light, although Moody does not make this analogy in her article here, the Loudons might be seen as promoting an ideal of moral architecture with plants, a notion that combines two senses of the “pastoral,” the care of souls and an idyll of rus in urbe, a notion eventually concretized in the prototype garden suburb of London’s Bedford Park.

<33> The pastoral aspect of the professional was also a gender-identity that risked merging with masochistic femininity, a gender fuzziness that was recognized not only by Trollope in his eager determination to anchor the professional in masculinity but by popular culture at large.  Cigarette, the “unsexed” heroine of Ouida’s best-selling serial Under Two Flags offers several causes for reflection.  A mere vivandière who supplies troops with provisions, Cigarette is nonetheless represented as both the supreme example of feminine self-sacrifice and the supreme example of military duty and prowess. Time and time again she is held up as an exemplary soldier and in that sense can be considered a “professional” with a powerful sense of vocation. She is intensely patriotic and constantly stands up for justice. At one point she even takes command of the Chasseurs and leads them to victory (357-8), for which she wins the Cross of the Legion d’honneur.  If her superiors do not live up to her standards (and officers fail quite spectacularly in this post-Crimean War novel), Cigarette nonetheless retains her integrity and independence throughout. Augmenting life, feeding, curing, caring for and leading when necessary her comrades at arms, she is a perfect example of the Foucauldian pastor.  Even on her death bed, she never forgets her pastoral duties, delivering a miniature and fractured homily to “her Army of Africa” on how to be good soldiers.  She remains conscious to the end of army discipline and rules and the importance of disseminating them through love:

‘I cannot speak as I would,’ she said at length, while her voice grew very faint. ‘But I have loved you. All is said! … I have been too quick in anger sometimes – forgive it,’ she said gently. ‘And do not fight and curse amongst yourselves; it is bad amongst brethren. Bury my Cross with me, if they will let you; and let the colours be over my grave if you can. Think of me when you go into battle…’ (526)

The figure of Cigarette seems to hint that commitment to a service ideal and sacrifice of the self is without gender. And, indeed, the possibility of its sexlessness has led historians such as Penelope Corfield (212-213) to suggest that it constituted the Trojan horse that let women in.

<34>Yet the professions’ abdication of the sense of self can also be regarded an ideological mystification of gender hierarchy.  Cigarette’s sacrifice of her life for her beloved comrade-in-arms is easily dismissed as romantic excess that oversteps the bounds of rationality in the interests of personal relations.  She may be repeatedly called a Jeanne d’Arc, but a Jeanne interpreted as “thoroughly woman-like in her passions.” (Ouida 363)  She may have “the heart of a girl and a soldier,” (193) but in the end her sacrifice and commitment to duty and to her comrades remain tagged as feminine.  There is even something maternal about her (she calls the troops her “gros bebées” (193, 196 and repeatedly)).  Reasoned and calculated sacrifice of the self to create a distance between object and subject was another matter.  A strategic performance of discrete gentlemanly behaviour is actually what Trollope was advocating as key to advancement, a proof that a man was not a flashy and over-voluble novus homo.  The elision of the self is thus, by a topsy-turvy logic, an assertion of the self, an unspoken discipline that separates those in possession of cultural and social capital from those without, whether in terms of gender or class.  In a very different, but surely related, context, such gentlemanly abstraction is discussed by Jim Mussell in his analysis of Charles Scott Sherrington. It can also be seen in some equally unsettling quotations from the Lancet in Harrison’s essay.  In these cases, it is all too plain that the material reality of professional practices (as opposed to narrative subjectivity) involved the sacrifice of objects other than the invisible masculine subject. (cf. Harding)

<35>Finally, we should not forget that Cigarette is a model soldier, a representative of the fourth, and unlearned, profession. The Army is part of the “police” in Foucault’s “apparatus of security” who exercise control through force. But more suggestive for the study of the professions in general is the role the army played in Foucault’s earlier Discipline and Punish. There, together with the monastery, the army was posited as offering the model for work discipline, for the creation of “docile bodies” “subjected and practised”.  Exquisite “gymnastics” match these bodies to objects in “manoeuvres” organised meticulously in time and space. (Foucault Discipline 138, 152, 153)  Such discipline, we learn:

operates four great techniques: it draws up tables; it prescribes movements; it imposes exercises; lastly, in order to obtain the combination of forces, it arranges tactics … the art of constructing, with located bodies, coded activities and trained aptitudes, mechanisms in which the product of the various forces is increased by their calculated combination… (Foucault 167)

Studies of the professions (especially the medical) took up the notion of discipline with some enthusiasm in the 1980s, only to be heavily criticised in the following decade (see Macdonald 174 and his criticism of Foucault on 182). However, the Victorians themselves were well aware of the policing and disciplinary functions of the professions. An 1846 Westminster Review piece describes in some detail the roles of what it calls the “Medical Police.” (“Medical Police”) The suitability of this description of the nineteenth-century professions suggests that, rather than leave behind middle Foucault in favour of the later with the argument that the later saw and rectified the flaws in the arguments of the earlier, future studies of the professions might find it productive to take into account both.

<36>For the impersonal service ideal and knowledge of a domain which was coming increasingly to determine a man’s right to be considered a professional was predicated on a very specific form of rite-de-passage itself based on disciplinary procedures: the examination.  The Apothecaries Act of 1815 had been the first to give a body of men the right to determine who could assign themselves an occupational title according to whether they had passed an examination.(8)  From the start, their examinations were serious tests of knowledge.  Unlike the polite examinations of the Physicians, which were really tests of social fitness, it might indeed be said that the new kinds of examinations and the monopolies they were designed to maintain presupposed the tactical drawing up of tables, the prescription of movement and the imposition of exercises on the parts of both examiner and examined.  The advice to law students from Sir Thomas Reeve offers a succinct example:

First, Obtain precise ideas of the terms and the general meaning of the law.
Secondly, Learn the general reason whereupon the law is founded.
Thirdly, From some authentic system, collect the great leading points of law, in their natural order, as the first heads and divisions of your future inquiry.
Fourthly, Collect the several particular points, and range them under their generals as they occur, and as you find you can best digest them. (“Methods” 229-230)

Such discipline presupposed abstract standards designed to measure a man’s worth and set him a particular kind of mental and physical gymnastics to learn. The professional examination which tested proficiency in these gymnastics was also a simple gateway which prevented women from breaking into the monopoly. This is what happened after Garrett Anderson qualified through the Apothecaries examination: the Apothecaries changed the regulations to prevent women from passing them.

<37>By the 1860s, examinations had become more severe or, indeed, had been introduced for the first time in a wide variety of professions.  Inevitably, the discipline they encouraged entailed a very different form of masculine sociality and identity from one based on birth and position, though the two forms overlapped and competed for a long time (traces of the earlier form are observable even today).  This conflict of emergent and residual is how we should see the behaviour of the surgeon Mr. Gibson in Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters that Huelman analyses in this issue.  The townsfolk enquire in an old-fashioned manner about his “birth” when he first arrives in Hollingford; he, meanwhile, exhibits social anxiety in a little world where respect is not automatically accorded to skills and knowledge, and prefers the modern world of a professional fraternity in print independent of the local.

Professions and the Press

<38>The focus of this special issue does not lend itself to an attempt to address the many and complex ways the press was used in the generation of what Wenger called “communities of practice” —  modes as informal as, for example, the way professional periodicals suggest topics of conversation to reinforce professional bonds (as implied, for instance, in the 1858 article “Methods of Self-Education”) or how they offered a man the chance to declare his professional identity and seriousness through the impressive display of long runs of periodical volumes on the walls of his chambers (note the reference to the Law Journal in Figure 1).

Figure 1. advertisement from The Jurist 1844

Nor does it consider how men trained in one profession ended up contributing to the press in fields distant from their training (Horrocks alerts us to the interesting example of the Punch brotherhood). While other pieces here explore the myriad ways the professions are portrayed in periodical fiction and fact directed at a general audience, what follows is a brief discussion of some of the functions of the specialist professional press and the implications for gender suggested by a generic version of the editor’s role as gate-keeper. These articles, by offering specific case studies nuance and challenge the discussion below, and, by including a far greater variety of the press and professional worker in the press, suggest other conclusions and approaches.  The specialist professional press, however, is a vast field that, with the notable exception of medicine (Bartrip, Bynum et al., Peterson), and the work of a handful of individual scholars (Altholz, Cosgrove “Law”, Mussell Science, Richardson, Tucker), has hitherto been read mainly from within the specialist domains themselves to generate occupational genealogies. Thus historians of surveyors mine the Transactions of the Institute of Surveyors, (Thompson) of dentistry the British Journal of Dental Science, (British) and so on.  A global consideration of the role of the press in the development of the professions has yet to be written.  What follows must necessarily be provisional.

<39>Discussion of the disciplinary, exclusionary and modernising function of examinations may seem a curious point at which to have entered discussion of professions and the press.  But the press played a vital role in the dissemination of examinations and their constant evolution.  Specialist periodicals, which started to grow in number in the 1820s, differentiated themselves from lay publications and the journals of other professions through particular vocabularies, styles and references.  No longer relying so heavily on closed doors and introductions or recommendations from the small circle of “Society”, the professions maintained their gender and class monopolies mainly through language of the type disseminated by the periodicals associated with them.  A vital part of this monopoly function was the publication in their pages of examination papers, model answers (after the exams had taken place, of course) and guides to study.  While the importance of actual schools cannot be doubted, periodicals had the advantage of non-geographic communication.  They enabled the aspirant to discipline himself in the profession wherever he could gain access to the relevant materials.

<40>These monopolies were, in turn, watched over by the editors of periodicals, themselves almost always male practitioners of the relevant profession, who exercised a gate-keeping role over what constituted valid knowledge and what not, what persons could contribute to and modify that knowledge and to what extent.  This sifting function involved not only the selection of articles but also the usually less exalted contributions to correspondence columns, and in some cases also the approval of advertisements.  These latter regularly included personals seeking employment or employees (see Figure 2) and, in the cases where editors did oversee their publication, they were in a position to regulate, in informal ways, the kind of men they thought appropriate in the profession.(9)

Figure 2. Lancet General Advertiser, 16 February 1867 [no page number]

<41>While of course not in reality independent of myriad pressures from all sorts of quarters (ideological rivals within the same profession, market forces, social connections including co-workers such as printers, historical events beyond their control), the masculine ideal of these editors may be said to preside over that circulation of signatures which marks out the core social identity of a profession or a segment of it, making exemplary stars of some and occluding others.  Thus we find Sir Frederick Pollock, the Corpus Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, editing the Law Quarterly Review for 35 years from its inception in 1885, able to mobilise an illustrious network to found the serious study of academic law (Cosgrove); or the practising architect and artist Thomas Raffles Davison, the long-serving editor of the British Architect, taking a pragmatic, non-theoretical (“British”) line on what constituted architecture.

<42>While Wakley seems an exception in his litigious self-aggrandising passion (a reaction in part, no doubt, to his lower-class status as a provincial surgeon), the masculinity enacted by the generic editor of the specialist professional periodical involved coolly rational, impersonal and calculated control not only over privilege, but over knowledge and those “four great techniques” of Foucauldian discipline that moulded the professional.  In this sense, he operated as an extension, either formal or informal, of those professional regulatory bodies that proliferated in the nineteenth century, and whose membership came to be granted only by examined proficiency in knowledge.  Sometimes the association of an editor with a particular fragment of a profession was perceived as too close, as was the case with John Rose Cormack, editor of the Association Medical Journal and simultaneously secretary of the British Medical Association. (King “Provincial Medical”)  Importantly, it was not the closeness of Cormack to the Association that was viewed as problematic.  The Association Medical Journal (under various titles) had been supplied to all BMA members as a subscription benefit since 1842. (Bartrip)  Rather, Cormack was ousted when the patronage he exercised became viewed as too great (and public) a threat to that core value of the professional, impersonal independence.  The ideal masculinity of the editor was not just a display of gate-keeping, therefore. However subject to patronage and other social pressures sub rosa, it had to be visibly subject to and promote the abstract goals of the profession as a whole.  A man’s pastoral self-sacrifice was coming to involve accountability, and to that extent he had not simply externally to enforce disciplinary procedures, but confirm himself subject to them.

<43>This article, ambitiously claiming in its title to offer a way into the study of gender, professions and the press in the nineteenth century, has sought to place in wider context the varied case-studies that other articles in this special issue have undertaken.  If it has flattened what was, in the terms of everyday lived experience, a very bumpy and hugely varied terrain, that is also indicative of the huge amount of work that remains to be done, above all in detailed case studies of professional periodicals.


(1)The earliest instance I have found of this variant on the far older occupation rhyme “Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Sailor” is in Opie (1955) 110.(^)

(2)A good deal of Census data is now available online (see ‘Census Records’ for an overview). The JISC funded project ‘A Vision of Britain’ offers free Census data not available through the commercial sites, and the material quoted from the Census Reports is derived from it. To find the individual URL for Census Report quoted below, the reader should go to the ‘Census Reports’ page of ‘A Vision of Britain’ (see ‘Works Cited’ below) and navigate from there.(^)

(3)See also the comments made on the 1871 Census by the Irish registrar general reported in Woollard (3).(^)

(4)See e.g. a letter to Lady Louisa de Rothschild, asking her to exert her influence to obtain his nephew a clerkship in the Bank of England, January 24 and May 4 1886, letters V6P118D1 and  V6P146D2.(^)

(5)My understanding of this passage is very different from Ruth’s who describes it as an “understanding of professional work as something that could be effortlessly translated into exchange value.” (100)(^)

(6)The publishing history of Spencer’s Principles of Sociology is complicated. It was issued serially from 1874 in various periodicals – most importantly the Fortnightly Review - and in separate parts. See Carneiro and Perrin.(^)

(7)Her treatment of Trollope’s Civil Service essay is cursory, as is Ruth’s (who also discusses The Three Clerks).(^)

(8)While the Royal Colleges of the Physicians and Surgeons set examinations, they had no right to prevent anyone calling themselves a Surgeon anywhere and a Physician outside 7 miles around London.(^)

(9)The extent to which adverts were within the control of the editor should ideally be discussed on a case-by-case basis. The fact that the Lancet issued a separate “General Advertiser” which enclosed each issue may indicate that the printer was in control here. Of course, the very costs of advertising for a position excluded large numbers of people, especially when the hefty advertisement taxes were in force (3s. 6d. between 1815 and 1833, and then 1s. 6d. until 1853).(^)


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