History of women in the United Kingdom covers
the social, cultural and political roles of women in Britain over the last two millennia.==Medieval==Medieval England was a patriarchal society
and the lives of women were heavily influenced by contemporary beliefs about gender and authority.
However, the position of women varied according to factors including their social class; whether
they were unmarried, married, widowed or remarried; and in which part of the country they lived.
Henrietta Leyser argues that women had much informal power in their homes and communities,
although they were of officially subordinate to men. She identifies a deterioration the
status of women in the Middle Ages, although they retained strong roles in culture and
spirituality.Significant gender inequities persisted throughout the period, as women
typically had more limited life-choices, access to employment and trade, and legal rights
than men. After the Norman invasion, the position of women in society changed. The rights and
roles of women became more sharply defined, in part as a result of the development of
the feudal system and the expansion of the English legal system; some women benefited
from this, while others lost out. The rights of widows were formally laid down in law by
the end of the twelfth century, clarifying the right of free women to own property, but
this did not necessarily prevent women from being forcibly remarried against their wishes.
The growth of governmental institutions under a succession of bishops reduced the role of
queens and their households in formal government. Married or widowed noblewomen remained significant
cultural and religious patrons and played an important part in political and military
events, even if chroniclers were uncertain if this was appropriate behaviour. As in earlier
centuries, most women worked in agriculture, but here roles became more clearly gendered,
with ploughing and managing the fields defined as men’s work, for example, and dairy production
becoming dominated by women.In medieval times, women had responsibility for brewing and selling
the ale that men all drank. By 1600, men had taken over that role. The reasons include
commercial growth, gild formation, changing technologies, new regulations, and widespread
prejudices that associated female brewsters with drunkenness and disorder. The taverns
still use women to serve it, a low-status, low-skilled, and poorly remunerated tasks.==Early modern period=====Tudor era===While the Tudor era presents an abundance
of material on the women of the nobility—especially royal wives and queens—historians have recovered
scant documentation about the average lives of women. There has, however, been extensive
statistical analysis of demographic and population data which includes women, especially in their
childbearing roles.The role of women in society was, for the historical era, relatively unconstrained;
Spanish and Italian visitors to England commented regularly, and sometimes caustically, on the
freedom that women enjoyed in England, in contrast to their home cultures. England had
more well-educated upper class women than was common anywhere in Europe.The Queen’s
marital status was a major political and diplomatic topic. It also entered into the popular culture.
Elizabeth’s unmarried status inspired a cult of virginity. In poetry and portraiture, she
was depicted as a virgin or a goddess or both, not as a normal woman. Elizabeth made a virtue
of her virginity: in 1559, she told the Commons, “And, in the end, this shall be for me sufficient,
that a marble stone shall declare that a queen, having reigned such a time, lived and died
a virgin”. Public tributes to the Virgin by 1578 acted as a coded assertion of opposition
to the queen’s marriage negotiations with the Duc d’Alençon.In contrast to her father’s
emphasis on masculinity and physical prowess, Elizabeth emphasized the maternalism theme,
saying often that she was married to her kingdom and subjects. She explained “I keep the good
will of all my husbands — my good people — for if they did not rest assured of some
special love towards them, they would not readily yield me such good obedience,” and
promised in 1563 they would never have a more natural mother than she. Coch (1996) argues
that her figurative motherhood played a central role in her complex self-representation, shaping
and legitimating the personal rule of a divinely appointed female prince.===Medical care===
Although medical men did not approve, women healers played a significant role in the medical
care of Londoners from cradle to grave during the Elizabethan era. They were hired by parishes
and hospitals, as well as by private families. They played central roles in the delivery
of nursing care as well as medical, pharmaceutical, and surgical services throughout the city
as part of organized systems of health care. Women’s medical roles continue to expand in
the 17th century, especially regarding care of paupers. They operated nursing homes for
the homeless and sick poor, and also looked after abandoned and orphaned children, pregnant
women, and lunatics. After 1700, the workhouse movement undermined many of these roles and
the parish nurse became restricted largely to the rearing and nursing of children and
Over ninety percent of English women (and adults, in general) entered marriage in this
era at an average age of about 25–26 years for the bride and 27–28 years for the groom.
Among the nobility and gentry, the average was around 19-21 for brides and 24-26 for
grooms. Many city and townswomen married for the first time in their thirties and forties
and it was not unusual for orphaned young women to delay marriage until the late twenties
or early thirties to help support their younger siblings, and roughly a fourth of all English
brides were pregnant at their weddings.===Witchcraft===In England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland there
was a succession of Witchcraft Acts starting with Henry VIII’s Act of 1542. They governed
witchcraft and providing penalties for its practice, or—in 1735—rather for pretending
to practise it. In Wales, fear of witchcraft mounted around
the year 1500. There was a growing alarm of women’s magic as a weapon aimed against the
state and church. The Church made greater efforts to enforce the canon law of marriage,
especially in Wales where tradition allowed a wider range of sexual partnerships. There
was a political dimension as well, as accusations of witchcraft were levied against the enemies
of Henry VII, who was exerting more and more control over Wales.The records of the Courts
of Great Sessions for Wales, 1536-1736 show that Welsh custom was more important than
English law. Custom provided a framework of responding to witches and witchcraft in such
a way that interpersonal and communal harmony was maintained, Showing to regard to the importance
of honour, social place and cultural status. Even when found guilty, execution did not
occur.Becoming king in 1603, James I brought to England and Scotland continental explanations
of witchcraft. He set out the much stiffer Witchcraft Act of 1604, which made it a felony
under common law. One goal was to divert suspicion away from male homosociality among the elite,
and focus fear on female communities and large gatherings of women. He thought they threatened
his political power so he laid the foundation for witchcraft and occultism policies, especially
in Scotland. The point was that a widespread belief in the conspiracy of witches and a
witches’ Sabbath with the devil deprived women of political influence. Occult power was supposedly
a womanly trait because women were weaker and more susceptible to the devil.Enlightenment
attitudes after 1700 made a mockery of beliefs in witches. The Witchcraft Act of 1735 marked
a complete reversal in attitudes. Penalties for the practice of witchcraft as traditionally
constituted, which by that time was considered by many influential figures to be an impossible
crime, were replaced by penalties for the pretence of witchcraft. A person who claimed
to have the power to call up spirits, or foretell the future, or cast spells, or discover the
whereabouts of stolen goods, was to be punished as a vagrant and a con artist, subject to
fines and imprisonment.Historians Keith Thomas and his student Alan Macfarlane revolutionized
the study of witchcraft by combining historical research with concepts drawn from anthropology.
They argued that English witchcraft, like African witchcraft, was endemic rather than
epidemic. Older women were the favorite targets because they were marginal, dependent members
of the community and therefore more likely to arouse feelings of both hostility and guilt,
and less likely to have defenders of importance inside the community. Witchcraft accusations
were the village’s reaction to the breakdown of its internal community, coupled with the
emergence of a newer set of values that was generating psychic stress.===Reformation===
The Reformation closed the convents and monasteries, and called on former monks and nuns to marry.
Lay women shared in the religiosity of the Reformation. In Scotland the egalitarian and
emotional aspects of Calvinism appealed to men and women alike. Historian Alasdair Raffe
finds that, “Men and women were thought equally likely to be among the elect….Godly men
valued the prayers and conversation of their female co-religionists, and this reciprocity
made for loving marriages and close friendships between men and women.” Furthermore, there
was an increasingly intense relationship In the pious bonds between minister and his women
parishioners. For the first time, laywomen gained numerous new religious roles, and took
a prominent place in prayer societies.==Industrial Revolution==
Women’s historians have debated the impact of the Industrial Revolution and capitalism
generally on the status of women. Taking a pessimistic view, Alice Clark argued that
when capitalism arrived in 17th century England, it made a negative impact on the status of
women as they lost much of their economic importance. Clark argues that in 16th century
England, women were engaged in many aspects of industry and agriculture. The home was
a central unit of production and women played a vital role in running farms, and in operating
some trades and landed estates. For example, they brewed beer, handled the milk and butter,
raised chickens and pigs, grew vegetables and fruit, spun flax and wool into thread,
sewed and patched clothing, and nursed the sick. Their useful economic roles gave them
a sort of equality with their husbands. However, Clark argues, as capitalism expanded in the
17th century, there was more and more division of labor with the husband taking paid labor
jobs outside the home, and the wife reduced to unpaid household work. Middle-class women
were confined to an idle domestic existence, supervising servants; lower-class women were
forced to take poorly paid jobs. Capitalism, therefore, had a negative effect on more powerful
women. In a more positive interpretation, Ivy Pinchbeck argues that capitalism created
the conditions for women’s emancipation. Louise Tilly and Joan Wallach Scott have emphasized
the continuity and the status of women, finding three stages in European history. In the preindustrial
era, production was mostly for home use and women produce much of the needs of the households.
The second stage was the “family wage economy” of early industrialization, the entire family
depended on the collective wages of its members, including husband, wife and older children.
The third or modern stage is the “family consumer economy,” in which the family is the site
of consumption, and women are employed in large numbers in retail and clerical jobs
to support rising standards of consumption.==19th century=====Fertility===
In the Victorian era, fertility rates increased in every decade until 1901, when the rates
started evening out. There are several reasons for the increase in birth rates. One is biological:
with improving living standards, the percentage of women who were able to have children increased.
Another possible explanation is social. In the 19th century, the marriage rate increased,
and people were getting married at a very young age until the end of the century, when
the average age of marriage started to increase again slowly. The reasons why people got married
younger and more frequently are uncertain. One theory is that greater prosperity allowed
people to finance marriage and new households earlier than previously possible. With more
births within marriage, it seems inevitable that marriage rates and birth rates would
rise together.The evening out of fertility rates at the beginning of the 20th century
was mainly the result of a few big changes: availability of forms of birth control, and
changes in people’s attitude towards sex.===Morality and religion===The Victorian era is famous for the Victorian
standards of personal morality. Historians generally agree that the middle classes held
high personal moral standards (and usually followed them), but have debated whether the
working classes followed suit. Moralists in the late 19th century such as Henry Mayhew
decried the slums for their supposed high levels of cohabitation without marriage and
illegitimate births. However new research using computerized matching of data files
shows that the rates of cohabitation were quite low—under 5%—for the working class
and the poor. By contrast in 21st century Britain, nearly half of all children are born
outside marriage, and nine in ten newlyweds have been cohabitating.Historians have begun
to analyze the agency of women in overseas missions. At first, missionary societies officially
enrolled only men, but women increasingly insisted on playing a variety of roles. Single
women typically worked as educators. Wives assisted their missionary husbands in most
of his roles. Advocates stopped short of calling for the end of specified gender roles, but
they stressed the interconnectedness of the public and private spheres and spoke out against
perceptions of women as weak and house-bound.===The middle-class===
The middle class typically had one or more servants to handle cooking, cleaning and child
care, Industrialisation brought with it a rapidly growing middle class whose increase
in numbers had a significant effect on the social strata itself: cultural norms, lifestyle,
values and morality. Identifiable characteristics came to define the middle class home and lifestyle.
Previously, in town and city, residential space was adjacent to or incorporated into
the work site, virtually occupying the same geographical space. The difference between
private life and commerce was a fluid one distinguished by an informal demarcation of
function. In the Victorian era, English family life increasingly became compartmentalised,
the home a self-contained structure housing a nuclear family extended according to need
and circumstance to include blood relations. The concept of “privacy” became a hallmark
of the middle class life. The English home closed up and darkened over the decade (1850s),
the cult of domesticity matched by a cult of privacy. Bourgeois existence was a world
of interior space, heavily curtained off and wary of intrusion, and opened only by invitation
for viewing on occasions such as parties or teas. “The essential, unknowability of each
individual, and society’s collaboration in the maintenance of a façade behind which
lurked innumerable mysteries, were the themes which preoccupied many mid-century novelists.”===
Working class families===Domestic life for a working-class family meant
the housewife had to handle the chores servants did in wealthier families. A working-class
wife was responsible for keeping her family as clean, warm, and dry as possible in housing
stock that was often literally rotting around them. In London, overcrowding was endemic
in the slums; a family living in one room was common. Rents were high in London; half
of working-class households paid one-quarter to one-half of their income on rent.
Domestic chores for women without servants meant a great deal of washing and cleaning.
Coal-dust from home stoves and factories filled the city air, coating windows, clothing, furniture
and rugs. Washing clothing and linens meant scrubbing by hand in a large zinc or copper
tub. Some water would be heated and added to the wash tub, and perhaps a handful of
soda to soften the water. Curtains were taken down and washed every fortnight; they were
often so blackened by coal smoke that they had to be soaked in salted water before being
washed. Scrubbing the front wooden doorstep of the home every morning was done to maintain
respectability.===Leisure===Opportunities for leisure activities increased
dramatically as real wages continued to grow and hours of work continued to decline. In
urban areas, the nine-hour workday became increasingly the norm; the 1874 Factory Act
limited the workweek to 56.5 hours, encouraging the movement toward an eventual eight-hour
workday. Helped by the Bank Holiday Act of 1871, which created a number of fixed holidays,
a system of routine annual vacations came into play, starting with white-collar workers
and moving into the working-class. Some 200 seaside resorts emerged thanks to cheap hotels
and inexpensive railway fares, widespread banking holidays and the fading of many religious
prohibitions against secular activities on Sundays. Middle-class Victorians used the
train services to visit the seaside, Large numbers travelling to quiet fishing villages
such as Worthing, Brighton, Morecambe and Scarborough began turning them into major
tourist centres, and people like Thomas Cook saw tourism and even overseas travel as viable
businesses.By the late Victorian era, the leisure industry had emerged in all cities
with many women in attendance. It provided scheduled entertainment of suitable length
at convenient locales at inexpensive prices. These included sporting events, music halls,
and popular theater. Women were now allowed in some sports, such as archery, tennis, badminton
and gymnastics.===Feminism and Reform===The advent of Reformism during the 19th century
opened new opportunities for reformers to address issues facing women and launched the
feminist movement. The first organised movement for British women’s suffrage was the Langham
Place Circle of the 1850s, led by Barbara Bodichon (née Leigh-Smith) and Bessie Rayner
Parkes. They also campaigned for improved female rights in the law, employment, education,
and marriage. Property owning women and widows had been
allowed to vote in some local elections, but that ended in 1835. The Chartist Movement
was a large-scale demand for suffrage—but it meant manhood suffrage. Upper-class women
could exert a little backstage political influence in high society. However, in divorce cases,
rich women lost control of their children.====Child custody====
Before 1839, after divorce rich women lost control of their children as those children
would continue in the family unit with the father, as head of the household, and who
continued to be responsible for them. Caroline Norton was one such woman, her personal tragedy
where she was denied access to her three sons after a divorce, led her to a life of intense
campaigning which successfully led to the passing of the Custody of Infants Act 1839
and then introduced the Tender years doctrine for child custody arrangement. The Act gave
women, for the first time, a right to their children and gave some discretion to the judge
in a child custody cases. Under the doctrine the Act also established a presumption of
maternal custody for children under the age of seven years maintaining the responsibility
for financial support to the father. In 1873 due to additional pressure from woman, the
Parliament extended the presumption of maternal custody until a child reached sixteen. The
doctrine spread in many states of the world because of the British Empire.====Divorce====
Traditionally, poor people used desertion, and (for poor men) even the practice of selling
wives in the market, as a substitute for divorce. In Britain before 1857 wives were under the
economic and legal control of their husbands, and divorce was almost impossible. It required
a very expensive private act of Parliament costing perhaps £200, of the sort only the
richest could possibly afford. It was very difficult to secure divorce on the grounds
of adultery, desertion, or cruelty. The first key legislative victory came with the Matrimonial
Causes Act of 1857. It passed over the strenuous opposition of the highly traditional Church
of England. The new law made divorce a civil affair of the courts, rather than a Church
matter, with a new civil court in London handling all cases. The process was still quite expensive,
at about £40, but now became feasible for the middle class. A woman who obtained a judicial
separation took the status of a feme sole, with full control of her own civil rights.
Additional amendments came in 1878, which allowed for separations handled by local justices
of the peace. The Church of England blocked further reforms until the final breakthrough
came with the Matrimonial Causes Act 1973.====Protection====
A series of four laws called the Married Women’s Property Act passed Parliament from 1870 to
1882 that effectively removed the restrictions that kept wealthy married women from controlling
their own property. They now had practically equal status with their husbands, and a status
superior to women anywhere else in Europe. Working class women were protected by a series
of laws passed on the assumption that they (like children) did not have full bargaining
power and needed protection by the government.====Prostitution====Bullough argues that prostitution in 18th-century
Britain was a convenience to men of all social statuses, and economic necessity for many
poor women, and was tolerated by society. The evangelical movement of the nineteenth
century denounced the prostitutes and their clients as sinners, and denounced society
for tolerating it. Prostitution, according to the values of the Victorian middle-class,
was a horrible evil, for the young women, for the men, and for all of society. Parliament
in the 1860s in the Contagious Diseases Acts (“CD”) adopted the French system of licensed
prostitution. The “regulationist policy” was to isolate, segregate, and control prostitution.
The main goal was to protect working men, soldiers and sailors near ports and army bases
from catching venereal disease. Young women officially became prostitutes and were trapped
for life in the system. After a nationwide crusade led by Josephine Butler and the Ladies
National Association for the Repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts, Parliament repealed
the acts and ended legalised prostitution. Butler became a sort of saviour to the girls
she helped free. The age of consent for young women was raised from 12 to 16, undercutting
the supply of young prostitutes who were in highest demand. The new moral code meant that
respectable men dared not be caught.===Work opportunities===
The rapid growth of factories opened jobbed opportunities for unskilled and semiskilled
women and light industries, such as textiles, clothing, and food production. There was an
enormous popular and literary interest, as well as scientific interest, in the new status
of women workers. In Scotland St Andrews University pioneered the admission of women to universities,
creating the Lady Licentiate in Arts (LLA), which proved highly popular. From 1892 Scottish
universities could admit and graduate women and the numbers of women at Scottish universities
steadily increased until the early 20th century.====Middle-class careers====
Ambitious middle-class women faced enormous challenges and the goals of entering suitable
careers, such as nursing, teaching, law and medicine. The loftier their ambition, the
greater the challenge. Physicians kept tightly shut the door to medicine; there were a few
places for woman as lawyers, but none as clerics.In the 1870s a new employment role opened for
women in libraries; it was said that the tasks were “Eminently Suited to Girls and Women.”
By 1920, women and men were equally numerous in the library profession, but women pulled
ahead by 1930 and comprised 80% by 1960. The factors accounting for the transition included
the demographic losses of the First World War, the provisions of the Public Libraries
Act of 1919, the library-building activity of the Carnegie United Kingdom Trust, and
the library employment advocacy of the Central Bureau for the Employment of Women.====Teaching====
Teaching was not quite as easy to break into, but the low salaries were less of the barrier
to the single woman then to the married man. By the late 1860s a number of schools were
preparing women for careers as governesses or teachers. The census reported in 1851 that
70,000 women in England and Wales were teachers, compared to the 170,000 who comprised three-fourths
of all teachers in 1901. The great majority came from lower middle class origins. The
National Union of Women Teachers (NUWT) originated in the early 20th century inside the male-controlled
National Union of Teachers (NUT). It demanded equal pay with male teachers, and eventually
broke away. Oxford and Cambridge minimized the role of women, allowing small all-female
colleges operate. However the new redbrick universities and the other major cities were
open to women.====Nursing and Medicine====
Florence Nightingale demonstrated the necessity of professional nursing in modern warfare,
and set up an educational system that tracked women into that field in the second half of
the nineteenth century. Nursing by 1900 was a highly attractive field for middle-class
women.Medicine was very well organized by men, and posed an almost insurmountable challenge
for women, with the most systematic resistance by the physicians, and the fewest women breaking
through. One route to entry was to go to the United States where there were suitable schools
for women as early as 1850. Britain was the last major country to train women physicians,
so 80 to 90% of the British women came to America for their medical degrees. Edinburgh
University admitted a few women in 1869, then reversed itself in 1873, leaving a strong
negative reaction among British medical educators. The first separate school for women physicians
opened in London in 1874 to a handful of students. In 1877, the King and Queen’s College of Physicians
in Ireland became the first institution to take advantage of the Enabling Act of 1876
and admit women to take its medical licences. In all cases, coeducation had to wait until
the World War.====Poverty among working class women====
The 1834 Poor Law defined who could receive monetary relief. The act reflected and perpetuated
prevailing gender conditions. In Edwardian society, men were the source of wealth. The
law restricted relief for unemployed, able-bodied male workers, due to the prevailing view that
they would find work in the absence of financial assistance. However, women were treated differently.
After the Poor Law was passed, women and children received most of the aid. The law did not
recognise single independent women, and lumped women and children into the same category.
If a man was physically disabled, his wife was also treated as disabled under the law.
Unmarried mothers were sent to the workhouse, receiving unfair social treatment such as
being restricted from attending church on Sundays. During marriage disputes women often
lost the rights to their children, even if their husbands were abusive.At the time, single
mothers were the poorest sector in society, disadvantaged for at least four reasons. First,
women had longer lifespans, often leaving them widowed with children. Second, women’s
work opportunities were few, and when they did find work, their wages were lower than
male workers’ wages. Third, women were often less likely to marry or remarry after being
widowed, leaving them as the main providers for the remaining family members. Finally,
poor women had deficient diets, because their husbands and children received disproportionately
large shares of food. Many women were malnourished and had limited access to health care.==20th century=====Women in the Edwardian Era===
The Edwardian era, from the 1890s to the First World War saw middle-class women breaking
out of the Victorian limitations. Women had more employment opportunities and were more
active. Many served worldwide in the British Empire or in Protestant missionary societies.====Housewives====
For housewives, sewing machines enabled the production of ready made clothing and made
it easier for women to sew their own clothes; more generally, argues Barbara Burman, “home
dressmaking was sustained as an important aid for women negotiating wider social shifts
and tensions in their lives.” An increased literacy in the middle class gave women wider
access to information and ideas. Numerous new magazines appealed to her tastes and help
define femininity.====White-collar careers====
The inventions of the typewriter, telephone, and new filing systems offered middle class
women increased employment opportunities. So too did the rapid expansion of the school
system, and the emergence of the new profession of nursing. Education and status led to demands
for female roles in the rapidly expanding world of sports.====Women’s suffrage====As middle class women rose in status they
increasingly supported demands for a political voice.In 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst founded
the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a suffrage advocacy organization. While WSPU
was the most visible suffrage group, it was only one of many, such as the Women’s Freedom
League and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) led by Millicent Garrett
Fawcett. In Wales the suffragists women were attacked as outsiders and were usually treated
with rudeness and often violence when they demonstrated or spoke publicly. The idea of
Welshness was by then highly masculine because of its identification with labouring in heavy
industry and mining and with militant union action.The radical protests steadily became
more violent, and included heckling, banging on doors, smashing shop windows, burning mailboxes,
and arson of unoccupied buildings. Emily Davison, a WSPU member, unexpectedly ran onto the track
during the 1913 Epsom Derby and died under the King’s horse. These tactics produced mixed
results of sympathy and alienation. As many protesters were imprisoned and went on hunger-strike,
the Liberal government was left with an embarrassing situation. From these political actions, the
suffragists successfully created publicity around their institutional discrimination
and sexism. Historians generally argue that the first stage of the militant suffragette
movement under the Pankhursts in 1906 had a dramatic mobilizing effect on the suffrage
movement. Women were thrilled and supportive of an actual revolt in the streets; the membership
of the militant WSPU and the older NUWSS overlapped and was mutually supportive. However a system
of publicity, historian Robert Ensor argues, had to continue to escalate to maintain its
high visibility in the media. The hunger strikes and force-feeding did that. However the Pankhursts
refused any advice and escalated their tactics. They turned to systematic disruption of Liberal
Party meetings as well as physical violence in terms of damaging public buildings and
arson. This went too far, as the overwhelming majority of moderate suffragists pulled back
and refused to follow because they could no longer defend the tactics. They increasingly
repudiated the extremists as an obstacle to achieving suffrage, saying the militant suffragettes
were now aiding the antis, and many historians agree. Historian G. R. Searle says the methods
of the suffragettes did succeed in damaging the Liberal party but failed to advance the
cause of woman suffrage. When the Pankhursts decided to stop the militancy at the start
of the war, and enthusiastically support the war effort, the movement split and their leadership
role ended. Suffrage did come four years later, but the feminist movement in Britain permanently
abandoned the militant tactics that had made the suffragettes famous.In Wales, women’s
participation in politics grew steadily from the start of the suffrage movement in 1907.
By 2003, half the members elected to the National Assembly were women.====Birth control====
Although abortion was illegal, it was nevertheless the most widespread form of birth control
in use. Used predominantly by working-class women, the procedure was used not only as
a means of terminating pregnancy, but also to prevent poverty and unemployment. Those
who transported contraceptives could be legally punished. Contraceptives became more expensive
over time and had a high failure rate. Unlike contraceptives, abortion did not need any
prior planning and was less expensive. Newspaper advertisements were used to promote and sell
abortifacients indirectly.====Female servants====
Edwardian Britain had large numbers of male and female domestic servants, in both urban
and rural areas. Men relied on working class women to run their homes smoothly, and employers
often looked to these working class women for sexual partners. Servants were provided
with food, clothing, housing, and a small wage, and lived in a self-enclosed social
system inside the mansion. The number of domestic servants fell in the Edwardian period due
to a declining number of young people willing to be employed in this area.====Fashion====The upper classes embraced leisure sports,
which resulted in rapid developments in fashion, as more mobile and flexible clothing styles
were needed. During the Edwardian era, women wore a very tight corset, or bodice, and dressed
in long skirts. The Edwardian era was the last time women wore corsets in everyday life.
According to Arthur Marwick, the most striking change of all the developments that occurred
during the Great War was the modification in women’s dress, “for, however far politicians
were to put the clocks back in other steeples in the years after the war, no one ever put
the lost inches back on the hems of women’s skirts”.The Edwardians developed new styles
in clothing design. The bustle and heavy fabrics of the previous century disappeared. A new
concept of tight fitting skirts and dresses made of lightweight fabrics were introduced
for a more active lifestyle. The 2 pieces dress came into vogue. Skirts
hung tight at the hips and flared at the hem, creating a trupet of lily-like shape.
Skirts in 1901 had decorated hems with ruffles of fabric and lace.
Some dresses and skirts featured trains. Tailored jackets, first introduced in 1880,
increased in popularity and by 1900, tailored suits became popular.
By 1904, skirts became fuller and less clingy. In 1905, skirts fell in soft folds that curved
in, then flared out near the hemlines. From 1905 – 1907, waistlines rose.
In 1901, the hobble skirt was introduced; a tight fitting skirt that restricted a woman’s
stride. Lingerie dresses, or tea gowns made of soft
fabrics, festooned with ruffles and lace were worn indoors.===First World War===
The First World War advanced the feminist cause, as women’s sacrifices and paid employment
were much appreciated. Prime Minister David Lloyd George was clear about how important
the women were: It would have been utterly impossible for us to have waged a successful
war had it not been for the skill and ardour, enthusiasm and industry which the women of
this country have thrown into the war. The militant suffragette movement was suspended
during the war and never resumed. British society credited the new patriotic roles women
played as earning them the vote in 1918. However, British historians no longer emphasize the
granting of woman suffrage as a reward for women’s participation in war work. Pugh (1974)
argues that enfranchising soldiers primarily and women secondarily was decided by senior
politicians in 1916. In the absence of major women’s groups demanding for equal suffrage,
the government’s conference recommended limited, age-restricted women’s suffrage. The suffragettes
had been weakened, Pugh argues, by repeated failures before 1914 and by the disorganising
effects of war mobilization; therefore they quietly accepted these restrictions, which
were approved in 1918 by a majority of the War Ministry and each political party in Parliament.
More generally, Searle (2004) argues that the British debate was essentially over by
the 1890s, and that granting the suffrage in 1918 was mostly a byproduct of giving the
vote to male soldiers. Women in Britain finally achieved suffrage on the same terms as men
in 1928.There was a relaxing of clothing restrictions; by 1920 there was negative talk about young
women called “flappers” flaunting their sexuality.===Social reform===
The vote did not immediately change social circumstances. With the economic recession,
women were the most vulnerable sector of the workforce. Some women who held jobs prior
to the war were obliged to forfeit them to returning soldiers, and others were excessed.
With limited franchise, the UK National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) pivoted
into a new organisation, the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC),
which still advocated for equality in franchise, but extended its scope to examine equality
in social and economic areas. Legislative reform was sought for discriminatory laws
(e.g., family law and prostitution) and over the differences between equality and equity,
the accommodations that would allow women to overcome barriers to fulfillment (known
in later years as the “equality vs. difference conundrum”). Eleanor Rathbone, who became
a MP in 1929, succeeded Millicent Garrett as president of NUSEC in 1919. She expressed
the critical need for consideration of difference in gender relationships as “what women need
to fulfill the potentialities of their own natures”. The 1924 Labour government’s social
reforms created a formal split, as a splinter group of strict egalitarians formed the Open
Door Council in May 1926. This eventually became an international movement, and continued
until 1965. Other important social legislation of this period included the Sex Disqualification
(Removal) Act 1919 (which opened professions to women), and the Matrimonial Causes Act
1923. In 1932, NUSEC separated advocacy from education, and continued the former activities
as the National Council for Equal Citizenship and the latter as the Townswomen’s Guild.
The council continued until the end of the Second World War.===Reproductive rights===
Annie Besant had been prosecuted in 1877 for publishing Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy,
a work on family planning, under the Obscene Publications Act 1857. Knowlton had previously
been convicted in the United States for publishing a book on conception. She and her colleague
Charles Bradlaugh were convicted but acquitted on appeal, the subsequent publicity resulting
in a decline in the birth rate. Not discouraged in the slightest, Besant followed this with
The Law of Population.===Second World War===Britain’s total mobilization during this period
proved to be successful in winning the war, by maintaining strong support from public
opinion. The war was a “people’s war” that enlarged democratic aspirations and produced
promises of a postwar welfare state. Historians credit Britain with a highly successful
record of mobilizing the home front for the war effort, in terms of mobilizing the greatest
proportion of potential workers, maximizing output, assigning the right skills to the
right task, and maintaining the morale and spirit of the people. Much of this success
was due to the systematic planned mobilization of women, as workers, soldiers and housewives,
enforced after December 1941 by conscription. The women supported the war effort, and made
the rationing of consumer goods a success. In some ways, the government over planned,
evacuating too many children in the first days of the war, closing cinemas as frivolous
then reopening them when the need for cheap entertainment was clear, sacrificing cats
and dogs to save a little space on shipping pet food, only to discover an urgent need
to keep the rats and mice under control. In the balance between compulsion and voluntarism,
the British relied successfully on voluntarism. The success of the government in providing
new services, such as hospitals, and school lunches, as well as the equalitarian spirit
of the People’s war, contributed to widespread support for an enlarged welfare state. Munitions
production rose dramatically, and the quality remained high. Food production was emphasized,
in large part to open up shipping for munitions. Farmers increased the number of acres under
cultivation from 12,000,000 to 18,000,000, and the farm labor force was expanded by a
fifth, thanks especially to the Women’s Land Army.Parents had much less time for supervision
of their children, and the fear of juvenile delinquency was upon the land, especially
as older teenagers took jobs and emulated their older siblings in the service. The government
responded by requiring all youth over 16 to register, and expanded the number of clubs
and organizations available to them.====Rationing====
Food, clothing, petrol, leather and other such items were rationed. However, items such
as sweets and fruits were not rationed, as they would spoil. Access to luxuries was severely
restricted, although there was also a significant black market. Families also grew victory gardens,
and small home vegetable gardens, to supply themselves with food. Many things were conserved
to turn into weapons later, such as fat for nitroglycerin production. People in the countryside
were less affected by rationing as they had greater access to locally sourced unrationed
products than people in metropolitan areas and were more able to grow their own.
The rationing system, which had been originally based on a specific basket of goods for each
consumer, was much improved by switching to a points system which allowed the housewives
to make choices based on their own priorities. Food rationing also permitted the upgrading
of the quality of the food available, and housewives approved—except for the absence
of white bread and the government’s imposition of an unpalatable wheat meal “national loaf.”
People were especially pleased that rationing brought equality and a guarantee of a decent
meal at an affordable cost.===1950s===
1950s Britain was a bleak period for militant feminism. In the aftermath of World War II,
a new emphasis was placed on companionate marriage and the nuclear family as a foundation
of the new welfare state.In 1951, the proportion of adult women who were (or had been) married
was 75%; more specifically, 84.8% of women between the ages of 45 and 49 were married.
At that time: “marriage was more popular than ever before.” In 1953, a popular book
of advice for women states: “A happy marriage may be seen, not as a holy state or something
to which a few may luckily attain, but rather as the best course, the simplest, and the
easiest way of life for us all”.While at the end of the war, childcare facilities were
closed and assistance for working women became limited, the social reforms implemented by
the new welfare state included family allowances meant to subsidize families, that is, to support
women in the “capacity as wife and mother.” Sue Bruley argues that “the progressive
vision of the New Britain of 1945 was flawed by a fundamentally conservative view of women”.Women’s
commitment to companionate marriage was echoed by the popular media: films, radio and popular
women’s magazines. In the 1950s, women’s magazines had considerable influence on forming opinion
in all walks of life, including the attitude to women’s employment.
Nevertheless, 1950s Britain saw several strides towards the parity of women, such as equal
pay for teachers (1952) and for men and women in the civil service (1954), thanks to activists
like Edith Summerskill, who fought for women’s causes both in parliament and in the traditional
non-party pressure groups throughout the 1950s. Barbara Caine argues: “Ironically here,
as with the vote, success was sometimes the worst enemy of organised feminism, as the
achievement of each goal brought to an end the campaign which had been organised around
it, leaving nothing in its place.”Feminist writers of that period, such as Alva Myrdal
and Viola Klein, started to allow for the possibility that women should be able to combine
home with outside employment. 1950s’ form of feminism is often derogatorily termed “welfare
feminism.” Indeed, many activists went to great length to stress that their position
was that of ‘reasonable modern feminism,’ which accepted sexual diversity, and sought
to establish what women’s social contribution was rather than emphasizing equality or the
similarity of the sexes. Feminism in 1950s England was strongly connected to social responsibility
and involved the well-being of society as a whole. This often came at the cost of the
liberation and personal fulfillment of self-declared feminists. Even those women who regarded themselves
as feminists strongly endorsed prevailing ideas about the primacy of children’s needs,
as advocated, for example, by John Bowlby the head of the Children’s Department at the
Tavistock Clinic, who published extensively throughout the 1950s and by Donald Winnicott
who promoted through radio broadcasts and in the press the idea of the home as a private
emotional world in which mother and child are bound to each other and in which the mother
has control and finds freedom to fulfill herself.===Women’s roles===
The 1960s saw dramatic shifts in attitudes and values led by youth. It was a worldwide
phenomenon, in which British rock musicians especially The Beatles played an international
role. The generations divided sharply regarding the new sexual freedom demanded by youth who
listened to bands like The Rolling Stones.Sexual morals changed. One notable event was the
publication of D. H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover by Penguin Books in 1960. Although first
printed in 1928, the release in 1960 of an inexpensive mass-market paperback version
prompted a court case. The prosecuting council’s question, “Would you want your wife or servants
to read this book?” highlighted how far society had changed, and how little some people had
noticed. The book was seen as one of the first events in a general relaxation of sexual attitudes.
Other elements of the sexual revolution included the development of The Pill, Mary Quant’s
miniskirt and the 1967 legalisation of homosexuality. There was a rise in the incidence of divorce
and abortion, and a resurgence of the women’s liberation movement, whose campaigning helped
secure the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975. The Irish Catholics, traditionally
the most puritanical of the ethno-religious groups, eased up a little, especially as the
membership disregarded the bishops teaching that contraception was sinful.==21st century==
Since 2007, Harriet Harman has been Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, the UK’s current
opposition party. Traditionally, being Deputy Leader has ensured the cabinet role of Deputy
Prime Minister. However, Gordon Brown announced that he would not have a Deputy Prime Minister,
much to the consternation of feminists, particularly with suggestions that privately Brown considered
Jack Straw to be de facto deputy prime minister and thus bypassing Harman. With Harman’s cabinet
post of Leader of the House of Commons, Brown allowed her to chair Prime Minister’s Questions
when he was out of the country. Harman also held the post Minister for Women and Equality.
In April 2012 after being sexually harassed on London public transport English journalist
Laura Bates founded the Everyday Sexism Project, a website which documents everyday examples
of sexism experienced by contributors from around the world. The site quickly became
successful and a book compilation of submissions from the project was published in 2014. In
2013, the first oral history archive of the United Kingdom women’s liberation movement
(titled Sisterhood and After) was launched by the British Library.==See also=====Topics===
Economic history of the United Kingdom, after 1700
Feminism in the United Kingdom Historiography of the United Kingdom
Historiography of the British Empire Social history of England
Suffrage in the United Kingdom Women in the House of Commons of the United
Kingdom Women in World War I (Great Britain)
Home front during World War I (Britain) Social history of the United Kingdom (1945–present)
Women in the Victorian era Timeline of Female MPs in the House of Commons====Scotland====
Historiography of Scotland Women in early modern Scotland
Women in Medieval Scotland====Wales====
Women’s suffrage in Wales===Categories===
British suffragists British women
English women Scottish women
Welsh women Women from Northern Ireland
Women in Scotland===
Organizations===British Federation of University Women (BFUW),
founded in 1907. NASUWT, The National Association of Schoolmasters
Union of Women Teachers, formed 1976 National Council of Women of Great Britain
National Union of Women Teachers, formed 1904 Adelaide Anne Procter (1825 – 1864) writer
on behalf of unemployed women Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps, unit in
First World War Society for Promoting the Employment of Women
(SPEW), formed 1859; in 1926 renamed the Society for Promoting the Training of Women (SPTW)
Townswomen’s Guild, formed 1929 Women’s Freedom League
Women’s Institutes Scottish Women’s Institutes, formed in 1917
Women’s Social and Political Union, suffragists of early 20th century===Individuals===
Margaret Bondfield (1873 – 1953) women’s rights activist
Edith Balfour Lyttelton (1865–1948) novelist, activist and spiritualist.
Mary Macarthur (1880 – 1921) trade unionist and women’s rights campaigner.==Notes====Further reading=====Historiography===
Bingham, Adrian (2004). “‘An era of domesticity’? Histories of women and gender in interwar
Britain”. Cultural and Social History. Taylor and Francis. 1 (2): 225&ndash, 233. doi:10.1191/1478003804cs0014ra.
Kanner, Barbara, ed. (1979). “The women of England from Anglo-Saxon times to the present:
interpretive bibliographical essays”. Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books. OCLC 833667495.
12 chronological surveys by scholars. Loades, David M. (2003), “Historiography:
Feminist and Women’s History”, in Loades, David M., Reader’s guide to British history
vol. 1: A to L, New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, pp. 640–642, ISBN 9781579584269.
Loades, David M. (2003), “Women and Employment: (20th Century)”, in Loades, David M., Reader’s
guide to British history vol. 2: M to Z, New York: Fitzroy Dearborn, pp. 1374–1386, ISBN
9781579584276. Purvis, June, ed. (1995). Women’s history:
Britain, 1850-1945: an introduction. Bristol, Pennsylvania: UCL Press. ISBN 9781857283204.
Steinbach, Susie (November 2012). “”Can we still use ‘Separate Spheres’? British History
25 years after Family Fortunes””. History Compass. Wiley. 10 (11): 826&ndash, 837. doi:10.1111/hic3.12010.See
also: Davidoff, Leonore; Hall, Catherine (2013) . Family fortunes: men and women of
the English middle class 1780-1850. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781135143978.Vickery,
Amanda (June 1993). “Historiographical review: Golden Age to Separate Spheres? A review of
the categories and chronology of English Women’s history”. The Historical Journal. Cambridge
Journals. 36 (2): 383&ndash, 414. doi:10.1017/S0018246X9300001X. JSTOR 2639654.===Demographic and family history===
Gillis, John R. (1985). For better, for worse: British marriages, 1600 to the present. New
York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780195045567. Szreter, Simon; Fisher, Kate (2010). Sex before
the sexual revolution: intimate life in England 1918-1963. Cambridge, UK New York: Cambridge
University Press. ISBN 9780521149327. Wrigley, E. A.; Schofield, Roger S. (1989).
The population history of England, 1541-1871: a reconstruction. Cambridge England New York:
Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521356886.===Pre 1800===
Ashelford, Jane (1983). A visual history of costume: the sixteenth century. London New
York: Batsford Drama Book Publishers. ISBN 9780896760769.
Bailey, Joanne (December 2002). “Favoured or oppressed? Married women, property and
‘coverture’ in England, 1660–1800”. Continuity and Change. Cambridge Journals. 17 (3): 351&ndash,
372. doi:10.1017/S0268416002004253. Crawford, Patricia (1993). Women and religion
in England, 1500-1720. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 9780415016964.
D’Cruze, Shani; Jackson A., Louise (2009). Women, crime and justice in England since
1660. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9781137156907.
Davidoff, Leonore; Hall, Catherine (2013) . Family fortunes: men and women of
the English middle class 1780-1850. London New York: Routledge. ISBN 9781135143978.
Hartley, Dorothy; Elliot, Margaret M. (1926). Life and work of the people of England: the
sixteenth century: a pictorial record from contemporary source. London: B.T. Batsford.
OCLC 874579264. Laurence, Anne (1994). Women in England, 1500-1760:
a social history. New York: St. Martin’s Press. ISBN 9780312122072. Review. Excerpt.
Leyser, Henrietta (1996). Medieval women: a social history of women in England, 450-1500.
London: Phoenix Giant. ISBN 9781842126219. Morrill, John, ed. (2000). The Oxford illustrated
history of Tudor and Stuart Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780192893277.
Survey essays by leading scholars; heavily illustrated.
Seymour Bridges, Robert; et al. (1916). Shakespeare’s England: an account of the life & manners
of his age (2 volumes). Oxford: Clarendon. OCLC 868363006. Essays by experts on social
history and customs. Martin, Joanna (2004). Wives and daughters:
women and children in the Georgian country house. London New York: Hambledon and London.
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1580-1650”, in Plumb, J. H., Studies in social history: a tribute to G.M. Trevelyan, Freeport,
New York: Books for Libraries Press, pp. 69–107, ISBN 9780836910636.
Peters, Christine (2004). Women in early modern Britain, 1450-1640. Basingstoke, Hampshire
New York: Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 9780333633595. Prior, Mary, ed. (1985). Women in English
society, 1500-1800. London New York: Methuen. ISBN 9780416357103.
Shoemaker, Robert (1998). Gender in English society, 1650-1850: the emergence of separate
spheres. London New York: Longman. ISBN 9780582103160. Singman, Jeffrey L. (1995). Daily life in
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Smith, Bonnie G. (1989). Changing lives: women in European history since 1700. Lexington,
Massachusetts: D.C. Heath and Co. ISBN 9780669145618. Stafford, Pauline (1994), “Women and the Norman
conquest”, in RHS, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, sixth series, volume IV,
London: Royal Historical Society, pp. 221–249, OCLC 631749975.
Stearns, Peter N., ed. (2000). Encyclopedia of European social history from 1350 to 2000
(6 volumes). New York: Scribner. ISBN 9780684805825. 209 essays by leading scholars in 3000 pp.;
many aspects of women’s history covered. Stenton, Doris Mary (1957). English Woman
in History. London: Allen & Unwin. OCLC 540932912. From Middle Ages to 1850s.
Stone, Lawrence (1977). The family, sex and marriage in England 1500-1800. Harmondsworth:
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England Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate. ISBN 9780754607304.
Tague, Ingrid H. (2002). Women of quality: accepting and contesting ideals of femininity
in England, 1690-1760. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK Rochester, New York: Boydell Press. ISBN
9780851159072. Thomas, Keith (1971), “Witchcraft in England:
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women’s lives in Georgian England. New Haven, Connecticut London: Yale University Press.
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9780521695442. Excerpt and text search.===Women as workers===
Abel-Smith, Brian (1960). “A history of the nursing profession in Great Britain”. New
York: Springer Pub. Co. OCLC 270822600. Bennett, Judith M. (1999). Ale, beer and brewsters
in England: women’s work in a changing world, 1300-1600. New York: Oxford University Press.
ISBN 9780195073904. Preview, bibliography pages 228.
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New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521880633.
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Oxford Journals. 143 (1): 167&ndash, 197. doi:10.1093/past/143.1.167. JSTOR 651165.
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life in World War Two. Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus. ISBN 9780752443164.
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The history of women in Scotland 1300–1700”. History Compass.
Wiley. 7 (2): 431&ndash, 446. doi:10.1111/j.1478-0542.2008.00588.x. A new field since the 1980s; favourite topics
are work, family, religion, crime, and images of women; scholars are using women’s letters,
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