Historians and political scientists have deemed the twentieth century 'the Conservative Century', owing to the electoral and cultural dominance of the Conservative Party in Britain. This book traces the relationship among women, gender and the Conservative Party from the 1880s to the present, and thereby seeks to fill that gap. A gender inclusive approach allows for a more nuanced understanding of political machinations, power and the unprecedented popularity of both conservatism and unionism in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The suffragette Christabel Pankhurst, was regarded as a charismatic, radical figure, who was the co-leader of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), a notorious suffrage organization campaigning for the parliamentary vote for women in Edwardian Britain. In 1928 Lady Iveagh, Vice-Chairman of the National Union of Conservative Associations (NUCA), claimed that one million women were members of the Conservative Party. The book focuses on how the Primrose League re-made itself for its female members between 1914 and 1932. It shows that the Conservative Party leadership and male candidates were keen to present themselves as the champions of home interests, playing up their family-man credentials against their rowdy electoral culture of Labour. The book also examines inquires how the deliberate choice of middlebrow rhetoric as well as the language of citizenship enabled Conservative women to construct a cross-class language of democracy. It explores British conservatism, highlighting the history of the Tory Party as part of the study of women and their sectional interest in 'the politics of gender'.
Anglican Church as a significant
influence on female voters, with 41 per cent of women declaring themselves to be
active church members, compared to 27 per cent of m
en – a striking finding given
Conservatism, gender and the politics, 1950s–1980s163
that men participated more extensively in all other forms of associational culture.40
The perceived strength of femaleconservatism was such that Benney, Grey and Pear
suggested that the Labour stronghold of Newcastle would become a marginal seat
if the electorate were entirely comprised of women.41 Robert McKenzie and
never regained the dynamism of
the third home rule crisis and arguably neither did unionism. The Irish Unionist
Alliance split in 1919 and the Ulster Women’s Unionist Council of the early twentieth century remains the largest female political force in Ireland’s history.94
This consideration of the inter-relationship between femaleconservatism and
unionism provides a gendered example of political partiality. Resisting home rule
was always Unionists’ raison d’être while, as Boyce has observed, ‘as far as British
conservative opinion was concerned, the fate of Ulster
The women’s Conservative organisation in the age of partial suffrage, 1914–28
themselves within the party with their male counterparts often claiming they would
act as the guardians of the interests of the home against Socialist intrusions.
Conclusion: the continuities of femaleConservatism
In summer 1929 Caroline Bridgeman left her position as leader of the women’s
Conservative organisation, following her husband’s elevation to the House of
Lords. This decision to follow her husband’s retirement from frontline Conservative
politics was indicative of the constrained role that women played within the leadership structure of the party. Bridgeman had
strategies. In developing appeals to gendered identities they
always had to compete with alternative Labour and Liberal appeals.
Annie Chamberlain did more than anyone to develop a culture of femaleConservatism, which adapted to working women’s social cultures and
responded to the appeal of non-party movements. Yet the Conservatives
still struggled to overcome the onslaught of Labour in parts of urban Britain
during the early 1920s. Ladywood nearly fell from the Conservative grasp
in 1924 despite the missionary zeal of Annie Chamberlain.
All the same, there is much to