Workhouse Women

Lesson at a glance

How were women treated in the Victorian workhouse?

The seven letters selected within this resource show a wealth of varied experiences of women inside the workhouse. The lesson can either use the letters in full or the teacher can select sections of the letters. Students are encouraged to analyse each letter, focusing on the treatment of women and their mental health.

Learning objectives:

  • To investigate the varied experiences of women in the workhouse.
  • To analyse and make inferences about a source.

Resources needed: Printed sources.

This lesson was created as part of the Voices of the Victorian Poor Teacher Scholar Programme


Task One: Class Discussion

Key questions:

  • What is a workhouse?
  • Why do we think some people need to move to indoor relief?
  • Do we think everyone’s experiences of the workhouse were the same?

Students to analyse the survey included in the Return Book from Mitford and Launditch workhouse in Norfolk. Students then complete an inference question: What can we infer about people entering the workhouse based on the source?

Task Two:
Look at the five pieces of information about conditions within the workhouse. In groups students should remember one key fact each and then under timed conditions share their key fact with their group. Students then feedback and compare what they have learned about the experiences of women in the Victorian workhouse.

Task Three:

Students should look at each letter and complete the table. They should include the TNA catalogue reference, the name of the person writing the letter, key details from the letter and then finally answering the question “how were they treated within the workhouse?”

Catalogue Reference Name of person on letter Details about their experience How were they treated in the workhouse?

Task Four:
Students write an introduction to a time-travellers guide about the experiences of women in the workhouse: including an answer to the question: What was life like for women in the Victorian workhouse?

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Lesson at a glance

Related resources

Voices of the Victorian Poor

Resources from the Teacher Scholar Programme

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