Between 1830 and 1914 the family sustained the Second City of the Empire. It in turn was often tested to its very limits by the stresses and strains of the industrial city, particularly by the traumatic experience of the urban setting and the ever present problems of unemployment and poverty.
The extended family was an important means of social and economic support for both working and middle class families. The close proximity of grandparents helped working mothers with childcare and in turn older people spent their declining years living within the family setting.
The ideal, or at least the propaganda for the ideal, was a family unit consisting of father as major earner at the head, supported by mother who stayed at home and looked after the children. In practice, this picture was more varied. In working class families, father's dominance was often undermined by unemployment or underemployment and not infrequently intemperance. Mother, "the angel of the home", was also a contributor to the family income. The strong Glaswegian woman with her feckless "man" (husband), holding down a job and looking after the "weans" (children), is an almost mythical figure.
Across the city in the refined West End, the picture was also less clear. Middle class women often found their "respectable" family surroundings frustrating, claustrophobic and not infrequently hypocritical. They found an outlet in organising charity (for example, for orphaned or needy children) which in effect was unpaid employment, knitting the unravelling aspects of urban life together where increasingly it was frayed at the edges.
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