First Advisor

Catherine McNeur

Date of Award

Spring 6-12-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in History and University Honors






south Wales, social reform, class, gender, urban/industrial environment, sanitation, coal industry, nineteenth century




In the second half of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth, sanitarians and reformers in Britain undertook a wide range of public health campaigns aimed at improving the conditions of the industrialized urban environment. Some turned their attention to south Wales, where the coal industry had spurred rapid urban growth and transformed the region into one of Britain’s industrial centers. The negative effects of this transition were most acutely felt in working-class communities in the south Wales coalfield, where a near-complete lack of urban planning had left a legacy of overcrowding, nonexistent or inadequate drainage and sewage systems, and inconsistent access to basic amenities like clean water. Reformers wanted to improve these conditions, making industrial cities cleaner and residents healthier. However, they expected their reforms to do more than just improve material conditions. For many, the reforms they wanted to implement extended to the moral and intellectual character of working-class urban residents. They believed that clean, disease-free environments were conducive to morally and intellectually healthy citizens. Through a mix of material improvements and education on "proper" ways of living, the working class could become, according to this logic, a "better" class of British citizens. This paper examines how urban reformers understood class and gender in relation to the industrial environment and how they incorporated these concepts into their reform efforts. Three social reform efforts--the British government’s inquiry into the state of education in Wales, the campaign for pithead baths to make miners and their families more "decent," and the campaign for mothercraft classes to combat "maternal ignorance”--are examined, with a focus on how reformers designated some groups and environments as immoral, and others as moral.


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