Worsnop’s ‘A Reevaluation of “the Problem of Surplus Women” in 19th-century England’


A debate concerning the “surplus women” problem identified by the 1851 Census took place, between women and men, between radicals and conservatives. Both the debate, and the actuality, of surplus women was influential for feminism and the women’s suffrage movement. This paper examines this debate through the 1850s and 1860s published voices of both sides.

-Provided by Author


This brief article discusses the role of the 1851 census in the debate surrounding the best ‘solutions’ to the ‘surplus women problem’ of Victorian Britain.  It provides a number of useful examples of conservative and radical writers, those advocating a re-balancing of sex-ratios and those advocating a re-balancing of gender norms. The author demonstrate clear links not only to the wider post-1851 debate, but how the census was used as evidence by both sides.  What is somewhat nagging about this piece is its light reference to the pre-1851 context. Although abstractly referenced, a true ‘baseline’ for the pre-1851 population is not provided, nor is a rhetorical baseline for pre-1851 commentary.  Because of this, a fuller understanding of the role of the 1851 census in shaping the discourse is ultimately unclear.

May Be Useful To Those Studying

  • The “surplus women” problem
  • British Feminism
  • Women and work in 19th-century Britain
  • 19th-century British Women writers
  • Victorian debates on gender


Worsnop, Judith. “A Reevaluation of ‘the Problem of Surplus Women’ in 19th-century England: The Case of the 1851 Census.” Women’s Studies International Forum 13, no. 1 (1990): 21.

Leave a Reply