Bush’s ‘The Right Sort of Woman’: Female Emigrators and Emigration to the British Empire, 1890-1910’


This article explores white British women’s efforts to appropriate their share of the Empire through the propaganda of female emigration societies. Female emigrators rejoiced in growing government recognition of their work, but sustained a style of female leadership and activism that deserves evaluation alongside other Victorian and Edwardian women’s movements. The article analyses the views of the emigrators on key issues related to female emigration: prospects for work and for marriage; the possibilities of a freer lifestyle for women in the colonies; the class issues surrounding servants’ emigration, and their assumed need for moral surveillance; the links (both biological and symbolic) between imperialism and motherhood. Debate surrounded these issues within the female emigration movement as well as outside it. As the female emigrators carved a space for women in the Empire, they confronted contradictions in their own lives and in gendered British society. [From the Author]


Bush’s article attempts to address the connection between female emigration societies and the concept of ‘imperious maternity’, those aspects of empire building that were taken up or popularised by female imperialists. As her abstract notes, this piece covers a wide range of topics and provides a great deal of personal and corporate biographical material alongside a close analysis of private and public discourse. Although all sections ultimately centre around the ‘imperious maternity’ concept, they can feel somewhat disconnected from one another, as the author moves from one period to the next, from colony to another, or between different organisational structures. It therefore requires (or prompts) a solid understanding of the cited groups and individuals as well as their connection to the wider female emigration debate. Overall, by linking this to some of the most debated practicalities of female emigration, Bush does provides some compelling evidence for the feminisation of imperial discourse by these women; however, the overall thrust of the argument is sometimes lost in the detail of the individual discussions.

Useful For Those Studying:

  • Women’s History
  • ‘Surplus Women’ Problem in Victorian Britain
  • Female Emigration
  • Emigration Societies
  • History of Feminism
  • Migration within the British Empire
  • Civil Society
  • Gender Solidarity (between classes)


Bush, Julia. “‘The Right Sort of Woman’: Female Emigrators and Emigration to the British Empire, 1890-1910.” Women’s History Review 3, no. 3 (1994): 385–409.

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