The role of young single women at that time was strictly defined by the class into which they had been born. For the middle and upper class woman, such as Lilias, idleness was considered a mark of gentility, with domestic servants absolving her from household tasks. Potential boredom was offset by the seasonal round of social events or by charitable work, until a "knight in shining armor" carried her off to the bliss of married life. Only the working class women were expected to "work," their choices being limited to the few occupations open to them: domestic servants, farm or factory workers, dressmaking, street traders, and shop assistants. As a result of the industrial revolution many of these women came to the cities where there were greater prospects for jobs--and for loneliness--often separated from their families by considerable distances. The warm, supportive atmosphere of hostels like Welbeck Street Institute, to which Lilias devoted her time, was a lifeline for these women.
While active in the program of the Welbeck Street Institute, Lilias could not help being aware of the spiritual needs of a different group of women only blocks away--the businesswomen employed in the high-class shops in Oxford Street and Regent Street, catering to the fashionable trade of London. Ever strategic in her approach, she began to offer "at homes" or social hours and drawing-room meetings at her Montagu Square address, where she could provide spiritual nourishment and fellowship in the comfortable surroundings of a home.
Friday, January 1, 2010
From A Passion for the Impossible by Miriam Huffman Rockness (pages 77-78):