Sunday, March 7, 2010

Women as Emigrants

Monday 8 March 2010 is International Women’s Day - as declared by the United Nations. The theme this year is: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunities: Progress for All.

This would have been a concept foreign to the women who emigrated from Britain or other countries in Europe to South Africa in the mid-19th c. These women came from assorted backgrounds: some were middle-class wives and mothers accompanying their husbands on the emigration adventure, others were escaping dire conditions of poverty and drudgery.

All of them, though, had a common denominator: theirs was a male-dominated world which placed limitations on their freedom of thought and action.

The shackles of convention were thrown off less easily than those of hunger, overcrowding, poverty and disease. An average emigrant woman took with her the restraints imposed on her by society and found these limitations to be alive and well in the colonies. If she was a wife and mother the decision to emigrate would be taken by her husband. If she was a single woman – a governess, perhaps – emigration would be dictated by her circumstances. She hadn’t much choice, either way. If anything changed for her at all, it was that life in the colony would be harder work than she had known 'at home' and that a new skills set was required.
Women did not appear on colonial burgess rolls – they weren’t eligible to stand for election and were denied the franchise. Women (that is, white women) in South Africa acquired the vote as late as 1930.

A woman’s place was in the home: women seldom followed careers or contributed to the family income. 19th c South African directories rarely make reference to women – unless they ran a hotel or boarding-house or a school or similar establishment. Missionary women (as distinct from wives of missionaries) were among those who achieved an unusual status, actually being listed in SA directories, e.g. ‘Broberg, Miss Amy, Missionary, Amatikulu, Inyoni’ (in Zululand 1897).

Few records specifically relate to female colonists. Because of this, their own surviving writings – diaries, letters etc – take on a particular significance. But such women were of the educated class and were in the minority. Female domestic servants and other unskilled workers had neither the time nor the ability to write letters; they may not even have been able to sign their names on their marriage lines.

More on this topic in posts during March.

From the Natal Almanac 1890

Thomson's Glove Corset: The Perfection of Shape, Finish &
Durability, and approved by
the whole polite world.


Steve Anstey said... this article there is mention of my Great Grand mother

SA directories, e.g. ‘Broberg, Miss Amy, Missionary, Amatikulu, Inyoni’ (in Zululand 1897).

I am trying to find out more information about her. Can you help

Mole said...

How amazing, Steve. The reference was taken from the Natal Almanac & Yearly Directory 1897 and you could view it at At present I cannot tell you more about Miss Broberg: she doesn't appear on the SA National Index, NAAIRS, at
If you enter in the search form for the Natal Almanac online mentioned above, (be patient while it searches for the right page) you may be able to identify which mission she was working for - but there are several pages and hundreds of names so, over to you! Best Wishes, Mole

Mole said...

She may have been with the Swedish Mission.
I note mention online of a book Thirty-six Female Missionaries in Natal and Zululand 1876-1902 - you might want to explore that. M

Steve Anstey said...

Thank you so much for this information...quite amazing that you used her as an example otherwise I would never had discovered this...much appreciated

Mole said...

Very pleased it was helpful. Steve, I note that my first comment omitted the word 'ecclesiastical' after . Was trying to suggest that you search the Natal Almanac online to go through the Ecclesiastical Directory which names many missionaries, lay workers etc.
Regards Mole

Mole said...

Mention of Amy Broberg - scroll down list to about item 55. This may tie in with the book I referred to in earlier comment.


Steve Anstey said...

Thank you very much. You have been very helpful. The name Amy Nilsson was her married name. I have tracked down the article and hope it will lead somewhere.

Again sincere thanks