Women & Philanthropy

The Belfast Poor House was a refuge for people of all ages and genders. However, throughout its history women and girls composed more than half of the resident population in the house. There were also a number of female benefactors who helped to support those less fortunate than themselves.

Employment for women was limited in Georgian & Victorian Belfast, women from the ‘labouring class’ were typically employed in domestic service, cottage industries and later in the mills that sprung up in Belfast. The Poor House acted as a safety net for those who fell on hard times, whether through the death of the main breadwinner in the household, economic recession or illness.

Alongside benevolent donations to charitable causes and institutions, more proactive female-led initiatives were set up in Belfast. In 1794, the Lying-In Hospital, Belfast’s first maternity unit, was formed by the Humane Female Society for the Relief of Lying-In Women. Three decades later, a Ladies Committee was established at the Poor House which campaigned for better conditions for the women and children.

This exhibition highlights the role of women and philanthropy throughout the centuries.