This article deals with the lives and works of some British women historians writing and publishing between 1820 and 1880. It aims to show how a group of women could work within, negotiate with, exploit and evade the restrictions of a predominantly patriarchal society. The first part of the article opens with an examination of their domestic backgrounds and educational opportunities, before considering their access to sources and their relations with scholars, writers and publishers. In this assessment of how these women came to be historians, both the drawbacks of their gender and the assistance given by male mentors are highlighted. In the second part of the article, the problems of personal identity experienced by women historians are examined; an outline of the (apparently) marginal historical fields in which they specialised follows. Their achievements as pioneers in the areas of social, cultural and art history and the challenge they presented to traditional male historical narratives are also considered.