The interwar years were a challenge to the women’s movement, which was somewhat becalmed and lacking direction after the suffrage victories of 1918 and 1928. While legislation aimed at removing sex discrimination from the workplace was enacted after the First World War, other laws, attitudes and traditions pressurised women to return to traditional gender roles that some had escaped from during the war. Nevertheless, by the outbreak of the Second World War women from all walks of life and in most professions had made steady progress in their search for equality, and the position of women in 1939 was unrecognisable from that in 1919. This book aims to establish how certain women were able to break through the obstacles ranged against them and achieve personal, professional and political fulfilment, and in so doing it formulates a framework for participation for other subjugated and marginalised groups. Taking the structure of a group biography of thirteen understudied and very different women, and using previously unpublished archival material, the book uncovers, on a granular level, the dispositions, skills and personal relationships that these women were endowed with that helped them achieve participation in the public world of work and politics. Each chapter examines a different participation strategy, from direct action to the use of formal networks, which different women employed to gain access to a range of areas barred to them, from politics, to engineering, to mountaineering, to foreign correspondence and humanitarian activism.
made the first ascent of the Dent Blanche (4,300 m), one of the most difficult peaks in the Alps, in July 1928. 14 It is now generally agreed that although the women’s movement fragmented after the 1918 and 1928 suffrage victories, women continued to seek equality in all parts of their lives, despite Ray Strachey’s triumphant signing off, in her classic feminist history, that ‘the main fight is over and the main victory is won’. 15 There is still disagreement, however, over the strength, focus, direction and achievements of women’s activism in the interwar years
women, some mentioned all too briefly in these pages, who were working assiduously at the defences of the fortress. The more you look, the more you find them, determinedly taking up positions in areas of public life never before occupied by women. Energised by the radical disruption of gender roles during the First World War and by the suffrage victories of 1918 and 1928, women dared to ask for, and take, more opportunities, from becoming JPs and MPs to challenging their husbands for control over the household economy, and over their own fertility in the privacy of
merely criticising her mother and Christabel presenting herself as the ‘heroine’ of the suffragette campaign. From 1913, Sylvia had begun re-building WSPU branches among the poor in the East End of London, forming her own grouping, the East London Federation of the Suffragettes. And in The Suffragette Movement she suggests it is her success in getting the Liberal Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, an ardent anti-suffragist, to received her East London delegation of working women in June 1914 that was the key to winning the vote. Thus suffrage victory was claimed not in
writing existed in the context of Sydney’s vibrant women’s publishing scene, which drew on and fed a wider Tasman world of women’s advocacy newspapers. These connections were decidedly uneven. News from New Zealand and South Australia, the sites of early suffrage victories, and the populous eastern colonies, Victoria and New South Wales, predominated. Developments elsewhere went unnoticed. Furthermore, advertising, correspondence, and subscription records show that, despite courting intercolonial audiences, these newspapers were primarily produced for, and consumed by
1908 ‘to promote patriotic feeling among women of all classes’, and which during the First World War instructed women in home defence, first aid and vegetable growing. 19 After the war its aims became more generally focused on promoting women’s interests and training women for public life in the wake of the partial suffrage victory. Pilley trained members of the League in public speaking. 20 She was clearly unfulfilled. A diary entry for 8 January 1921 reads: I am practically The League; I can do as I like, I meet interesting people; I do not have to work
Brittain, who worked as a nurse, concurred that ‘already the free-and-easy movements of girl war-workers had begun to modify convention’.28 In Ray Strachey’s 1928 history of feminist heroism, ‘the great success of women’s war work, and the great publicity which attended it’ led directly to ‘suffrage victory’.29 Inter-war women’s autobiographies, the war and suffrage agitation In one of the closing and most important chapters of her feminist autobiography Life Errant (1935), entitled ‘The State of Single 124 Odd women? Blessedness: and Matters Arising Therefrom