As the nineteenth century progressed, discussions focused less on competing versions of the body politic, and turned instead to debates about whose bodies should be represented by the polity. Most contemporary commentators assumed the state was white, male and middle class. is was put most pithily by the American intellectual Orestes Brownson:

Brownson saw no tension in his use of the term ‘universal su rage’ and the limitation of this privilege to men. Indeed, in his view, membership of the body politic was a signi er of manliness. Feminist campaigners struggled with the paradox that ‘equal rights’ could be denied to women and other groups. us, a petitioner, Mary Smith of Stanmore in Yorkshire, argued that the 1832 Reform Act should include female taxpayers as well as male. As women were liable to all the punishments of the law, they ought to have a voice in the making of them.7 As Joan Scott has argued, in the context of the French Revolution, citizenship was assumed to depend on the physical characteristics of the male human body and this problematized claims by women to be full and active citizens in the liberal state.8 Campaigners thus presented the condition of the state as the problem. By limiting the political nation to propertied men, the constitution was

ailing, unhealthy, damaged and in need of healing to be restored to full vigour. For example, the activist Millicent Garret Fawcett, commenting on the tactics of militant su ragettes (which she condemned), nevertheless put the responsibility rmly on the shoulders of politicians:

Many women’s rights campaigners, however, rejected the idea that the unhealthy state could be cured either by the ministrations of politicians or by recourse to doctors and conventional medicine, for they were considered to be part of the problem. As Claire Brock argues in this volume, the medical profession was overwhelmingly male, and women activists regarded doctors as agents of the establishment. e lack of control women had over medical interventions on their own bodies mirrored their limited rights in the public sphere. Feminist outrage against what they viewed as politicians’ and physicians’ violation of female bodies was at its height during the campaigns against the Contagious Diseases Acts where women suspected of prostitution could be forcibly detained and subjected to brutal internal examinations.10 e overwhelmingly male state and medical profession colluded to target and abuse vulnerable women, rather than the men using the prostitutes. In light of all this, many campaigners concluded that the solution to a healthy polity comprising of vigorous, t citizens would not be supplied by the male-dominated medical profession. For many activists, the health of their own body and that of the state was dependent upon them wresting control from the authorities and taking over the management of their own well-being. One of the key elements that emerged in this struggle between the establishment and women’s rights activists centred on that vital element for survival: food.