'We Shall Be Respectable': Women and Representations of Respectability in Lyttelton 1851-1893
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis investigates the meanings and representations of respectability in Pakeha women's lives in nineteenth-century Lyttelton, New Zealand. Respectability was a form of gendered behaviour connected to ideals of appropriate femininity and women's proper place. It was one of the values on which Lyttelton was founded and respectable women had an important role from the beginning as agents of civilization. However, respectability was not solely a behavioural norm imposed on women and an examination of the forms of respectability in this growing colonial town reveals that women were active agents negotiating and contributing to definitions of respectability. The forms of respectability in Lyttelton were related to the town's character as a busy port, and the associated disorder contributed to divisions between respectable and unrespectable spaces. Women understood and represented respectability in different ways depending on their class position, social status, family responsibilities and involvement in the workforce. Not all women were able to conform to dominant norms of respectability, and others demonstrated an ambivalent commitment to ideals of respectable behaviour. The discourses of respectability in Lyttelton were complex and diverse, illustrating the anxieties and tensions of a migrant community.