More than jam tomorrow?

 The political role of mainstream women’s organisations 1928-1970.  An assessment of Caitriona Beaumont, Housewives and Citizens: Domesticity and the Women’s Movement in England, 1928-1964.

[This is an extended review, fully footnoted and containing some original research.  This s a first, incomplete, draft and I will be extending the analysis here. The issues raised in this book are important and should, I feel, be the subject of a rigorous and grounded debate. I will be adding some material on the submissions of the bodies considered in this book made to government bodies, and some consideration of material in the NCW’s archive.  The section on welfare is particularly limited, and I will probably be adding a section on citizenship.]


A few years ago the lines of debate about the nature of the women’s movement in mid-twentieth century Britain between the end of the suffrage movement in 1928 and the rise of the second wave of the feminism in the late 1960s were clearly set.  As Beaumont points out, these had been set in part by the Women’s Liberation Movement in Britain which had been keen to point to a hiatus between the first wave highlighting how they had started afresh.  Thus, one leading British second wave feminist, Shelia Rowbotham, writing in 1973 ended her history of the battle for women’s equality in the early 1930s when ‘the last great feminist wave of the late nineteenth century finally faded.’[1]  Against this others, most notably the sociologist and historian of feminism Olive Banks, suggested the first wave feminist organisations, many of which still existed in the 1950s and 1960s, continued to have an impact in the campaigns for greater women’s equality, for example in keeping the demand for equal pay alive.[2]  This could be seen as being the views of two generations, one whose view of the 1940s and 1950s were conditioned by living through the period (Banks ,1923-2006) against those who saw them only through the lens of 1960s radicalism and 1970s feminism (Rowbotham, b.1943).

The orthodoxy has become that there was a hiatus in the feminist movement c.1928-1968, this was bridged by women’s organisations in the labour movement.  For example, Martin Pugh highlights the role of female Labour MPs who never considered themselves feminist but spanned the divide between the first and second waves of feminism.[3]  Elizabeth Wilson similarly points to the labour movement as the repository of a strand of welfare oriented feminism.[4]  In her book Caitriona Beaumont does not reject this role of the labour movement (the Women’s Co-operative Guild is particularly highlighted), but argues that there was continuity between the first and the second wave of feminism provided not just by the continuation of first wave feminist groups such as the Six Point Group (SPGP and Open Door Council (ODC) but also by more mainstream and conservative women’s organisations.  Specifically her book examines five such organisations, the mainstream end of the spectrum being supplied by the National Council of Women which sought to act as an umbrella organisation for women’s organisations, and then in order of increasing conservatism (this estimate is mine) the Nation Union of Townswomen’s Guild (NUTG), the National Federation of Women’s Institutes (WI), the Church of England aligned Mothers’ Union and the Catholic Women’s League (CWL).  Beaumont argues that these organisations have been largely ignored in the historiography, which is undoubtedly true.  What is also beyond doubt is that these organisations did not simply make jam but (at least at a national level) represented women’s interests and attempted to influence government policy.  What is more questionable is that these constituted a ‘vibrant and successful network of women’s organisations’[5] or (as Beaumont offers a tentative hypothesis) these organisations offered a bridge between the first and second waves of feminism.[6]

That these were independent, women’s organisations is beyond doubt.  Beaumont shows how the Mothers’ Union in particular became increasingly assertive towards the male hierarchy of the Church of England.  It is notable that while the Church became more liberal on issues of birth control, divorce and abortion, the Mothers’ Union remained hard line in opposition to reform.  As Beaumont shows, when in 1937 the Mothers’ Union shut down a branch for supporting easier divorce, the Archbishop of Canterbury interceded to plead for greater tolerance and plurality in the organisation.  Whether these bodies constituted part of a women’s movement is more questionable.  The NCW came closest to showing the existence of a women’s movement in this period, it sought affiliation to women’s organisations and thus to represent women.  It is notable that neither the Townswomen’s Guild nor the WI affiliated to it because they thought it too political, and the relationship between the NCW and religious groups such as the Mother Union and CWL was often fraught.  It is worth noting here, as Beaumont warns us, that the women’s movement is not necessarily a synonym for feminism.

These five organisations pulled in very different directions on many of the issues discussed in the book.  On birth control, abortion and divorce the Mothers’ Union and CWL were steadfastly opposed to reform, and the NUTG and WI stayed clear of areas that would have been divisive within their ranks. Only the NCW supported reform in these areas, often causing some controversy and disaffiliation of both the Mothers’ Union and Catholic groups.  Thus, on the issues at the core of women’s role in society, particularly those giving them control over their fertility and reforms weakening the strength of the marriage bond, these organisations were a long way from constituting any kind of movement.

Nonetheless, it is an important point that history is not only the history of what we might now see as progressive.  In a society where women’s equality is seen as a socially good and progressive cause, there is a tendency to take the Whig approach and write out of history all of those movements and ideas that pointed in different directions and conceptualised women’s interest in different ways.  Although she does not develop the point, Beaumont offers as a tentative hypothesis that these organisations might be considered feminist.  Following the lead of Lorna Gibbon, it is suggested what is considered to be  feminist should include any movement that facilitates women seeking ‘fulfilled lives within traditional social constructions of gender and accepting patriarchy’[7]  Of course, it is possible to define feminism in any way one wishes, but recognisable feminist movements have always been those that question women’s role in some aspect of society.

In this context, these organisation must be understood in terms of their role in the development of the women’s movement through the twentieth century.  In their own terms they were anti feminist.  For a large part, they accepted women’s existing role in the family and society and asserted women’s interests in that framework.  Even where there were feminists in the leadership of these organisations, such as Alice Franklin  (who was the NUTG’s honorary secretary and treasurer for most of the 1930s and 40s) they were careful to keep this separate from their role in these organisations where such a view would have been divisive.[8]  Beaumont argues that such women asserted women’s rights by emphasising that their rights to citizenship were not based on involvement in the public sphere, and that their right to welfare was not based on their paid employment, but on their role as housewives and mothers made them citizens and with these came their rights.  Such anti-feminism led them not to questioning women’s role, but rather demanding women’s rights based on that role, and Beaumont argues that these organisations sought to modernise domesticity rather than overthrow it.

Even if Beaumont’s framework of what a women’s movement and feminism might be is accepted, the view that these organisations were successful in advancing a new conception of women’s citizenship is not strongly established in this book.  This is, I would argue, down to two methodological problems.  The first is that it looks almost exclusively at the activities, publications and activities of these organisations.  This tells us what they thought (or at least, what their national leaderships thought), but tells us nothing of how effective they were.  Thus, we are presented with a series of post hoc fallacies.  For example, just because a women’s organisation argued for better housing in the 1940s, and then housing improved, there is no necessary link between two.  That the first, at least in part, caused the second needs to be established through a careful examination of how the policy that affected housing (or any other issue) changed.

The second issue is the time frame of the book.  The book covers the period 1928 to 1964, but the bulk of the analysis is restricted to 1928 to 1939, after which the analysis becomes increasingly attenuated.  The period 1950 to 1964 is the focus of one chapter at the end of the book.  Notably, the years 1964 to 1970s when the second wave of feminism was emerging but inchoate (the first Women’s Liberation Conference was in April 1970) is not covered, although this was also the period Harold Wilson’s governments under which a series of reforms were enacted that began to meet some the historical grievances of the women’s movement, the 1967 Abortion Act, 1970 Equal Pay Act and extension of the availability of contraception.  Divorce was always a much more problematic concern for feminists and women’s organisations which focused much more on the financial position of married women and the need to ensure that husbands supported their wives, but here the reforms of the late 1960s marked an important shift in matrimonial law in Britain.  It is always a little unfair to criticise a book for what it does not say, but the end point of many of the campaigning issues highlighted in Beaumont’s book remain tantalising just over its event horizon.  Additionally, these are areas where the emergence of the second wave of feminism could tell us more about the relationship between this group and organisations and the new movement.

In the following sections I will examine in detail three areas of policy examined in this book, abortion law reform, equal pay and welfare [although this is weak in this draft.  I hope to add a section on citizenship to a later draft].  Through this detailed analysis it is hoped to gain a more nuanced understanding of the impact of these mainstream women’s organisations and their relationship to first and second wave feminism.

Abortion Law Reform

In the case of abortion only the NCW supported reform, with both the Mothers’ Union and CWL being implacably opposed.  Beaumont claims that the appointment of Lady Ruth Balfour to the government’s 1937 inter-departmental committee (the Birkett Committee) to examine maternal mortality and abortion showed the NCWs’ influence.  Although Balfour was a vice president of the NCW, and had been a member of a delegation to the Ministry of Health from the NCW and other organisations calling for an investigation into mortality in women associated with abortion there were other reasons for her inclusion on the committee.  She had a degree in medicine and had been co-author with Lady Rhys-Williams from the Joint Council of Midwifery of its report on non-therapeutic abortion.[9]

It is certainly the case that the NCW was one place where those who wanted change organised.  Alice Jenkins, who was to be one of the triumvirate who ran the Abortion Law Reform Association (ALRA) from its foundation in 1936, had been active in the NCW in Ealing and through it had established a birth control clinic.  In 1935 the NCW conference had passed policy calling for an investigation into the impact of abortion and reform, but the extent of the call that the NCW was making is unclear since the same conference saw a motion from Alice Jenkins that called for the law to allow abortion for those under 14 who had been raped being withdrawn due to opposition from the Mothers’ Union.  [A later draft will seek to ascertain the working etc. of the motion passed].

The picture of the NCW’s support for reform being limited is underscored by the findings of the Birkett Committee, which not only called for no extension of the law (which allowed for abortion only where there was serious risk to a women’s health) and did not support calls for greater availability of birth control advice through local authority clinics.  One member of the committee stood out for reform, the Labour activist Dorothy Thurtle, a founder member of the Workers’ Birth Control Group that had briefly scintillated with socialist feminism in the 1920s, and had also been involved in the establishment of the Abortion Law Reform Association.  In a minority report she proposed that abortion should be allowed on therapeutic grounds, for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and for women who already had four or more children, but this received support from no other members of the committee which did not even support greater availability of contraceptives for women.[10]  [Later draft will examine in detail the proceedings of this committee, and the nature of the evidence given by any of the five who gave evidence, and if the records allow, Balfour’s role on the committee]

The NCW’s less than forthright support for reform continued in the post-war period.  When the Labour MP Joseph Reeves brought forward a Private Members Bill in 1952 with the limited aim of clarifying the law to ensure that abortions were legal if performed to protect a woman’s life,[11] the NCW refused to support it on the grounds that it was too limited.  Although, like much of the NCW’s attitude to abortion law reform, it could benefit from more research the most likely explanation for this stance was an attempt to face both ways with the lack of support keeping religious groups happy, and the explanation seeking to mollify supporters of the reform.  When another Labour MP, Kenneth Robinson, brought forward another PMB in 1961, the NCW’s reaction was initially to refuse support.  [Later draft will examine NCW archive to see if there is material that can cast further light on this]

From its formation ALRA had spent considerable effort trying to win the active support of non-feminist women’s organisation like the NCW to abortion reform, and although it was possible to win votes at the NCW’s conference (as happened first in 1938 and again in 1959), [later draft will double check this against material in ALRA archive] turning this into active support by the NCW’s leadership proved difficult.  When the Labour backbencher Kenneth Robinson brought forward his PMB in 1961, the NCW initially did not support it in order not to alienate their Catholic affiliates and the Anglican Mothers’ Union, the NCW initially refused to back Robinson’s PMB.  It was only after an intervention by Alice Jenkins that NCW supported the bill, passing off its previous position as a misunderstanding.[12]

In the early 1960s ALRA re-emerged with new life with a fresh leadership (Diane Munday, Madeline Simms and Alistair Service in particular), but still had a view to winning the NCW over.  When Simms attended a meeting of the NCW’s Moral Welfare Committee in early 1964 she was shocked by what she found:

It may well be that the Moral Welfare Sectional Committee attracts the worst elements in the NCW:  There is certainly evidence that other parts of the organisation are more progressive in their outlook.  However, this particular committee … seems largely concerned with hunting down pornography, prosecuting newsagents, and co-operating in this activity with such dubious bodies as … the Public Morality Council, and the London Committee Against Obscenity … It is also objecting to the more tolerant attitude to sexual ethics which is apparently being preached by some lecturers of the Marriage Guidance Council (baleful Humanist influence detected here) and trying to prevent the sale of contraceptives through slot-machines.[13]

Relations with the NCW remained difficult,although another leading ALRA member, Diane Munday, was later to find ordinary members of the NCW to be more sympathetic to reform.[14]  ALRA believed NCW deliberately manoeuvred to stop a pro-reform motion being taken at their 1964 conference.[15]  The following year pro-reform policy (calling for abortion to be allowed on the grounds of the woman’s health, potential birth defects or rape) was passed by the NCW although the Mothers’ Union, the CWL and four further Catholic groups registered their dissent.[16]  This again was undermined by the NCW’s leadership when David Steel’s Abortion Bill (which was to be passed as the 1967 Act) was being discussed in Parliament.  The NCW’s president, Joan Boulind, argued that the bill’s scope had been extended in committee to allow doctors to make judgements on social conditions for which they were not qualified.[17]  The Chair of ALRA, Vera Houghton, replied that this was specious since the social clause had been removed and the bill’s scope reduced in committee.  ALRA thought this was an inept cover for bureaucratic manoeuvring under pressure from religious affiliates to the NCW.[18]  Nonetheless, probably as a result of the mounting pressure from anti-reform campaigning to which the NCW were sensitive it refused to support the reform.  When ALRA attempted to fight back through using allies in the Croydon branch of the NCW, the NCW’s leadership discussed the issue and withdrew support for Steel’s bill following discussion at a committee where they knew that no ALRA supporters would be present.[19]  Thus, the support that the NCW offered to abortion law reform was minimal, and when push came to shove, they opposed it.

The support from other broad women’s organisations was little better.  ALRA had a negative assessment of the Standing Conference of Women’s Organisations (the local groups of the Women’s Group on Public Welfare, later known as the Women’s Forum).  Although this had been established in 1939 by the National Council for Social Service and was chaired by the Labour politician Margaret Bondfield, its character was determined much more by the women’s voluntary organisations which constituted it, the NUTG and WI.[20]  It is therefore surprising that in 1965 the NUTG passed policy in favour of reform and circulated all branches in 1967 calling for support for Steel’s bill.[21]  The NUTG was scrupulous in avoiding any divisive policy within its ranks, and it would be interesting to understand why it took this stance at that time.  At least it shows that this was an area where opinion was softening towards reform, but both Catholic opinion and a strong current amongst the Anglican laity remained opposed and these were both areas where the NUTG trod with care.[22]  There is certainly some evidence that the NUTG’s position reflected ALRA targeting the organisation in 1964 with offers of speakers.[23]  Some branches of the WI supported reform too.[24]  [a later draft will attempt to look at the NUTG’s position and how it came about, but its archives are not open so this will rely on public statements.]

Thus, there seems little evidence to support the view that the NCW, let alone the other four groups, formed a bridge between the first and second wave.  In the context of the campaign for abortion law reform, that bridge can be found in the continuing importance of socialist feminists who supplied many of its leading figures from the 1930s to the 1950s.  Stella Browne had developed a militant socialist-feminist viewpoint probably through contact with the German socialist movement before the First World War and the idea of Russian Communists such as Alexander Kollontai after it.[25]   Many of its leading members had been active in the Workers Birth Control Group, and when this merged into the broader family planning movement (ultimately becoming the Family Planning Association in 1939, which preferred to quietly go about organising clinics rather than challenging public morality through campaigning work), they looked to ALRA as a more radical campaign.

Equal Pay

The demand for equal pay was a long standing one, dating back to the nineteenth century although first wave feminist organisations had tended to emphasise more on ending the exclusion of women, particular those who were married, from many professions.  There had been agitation for equal pay in trade unions and feminist groups immediately after the First World War and had become a central demand of many of many of the post-suffrage first wave feminist groups such as the SPG and the ODC.  In the Standing Joint Council of Working Women’s Organisations (a body which represented women in both the Labour Party and the trade unions) the demand for equal pay was embedded by 1930.[26]

The impetus for renewed demands, however, came from the mainstream women’s movement.  One of Beaumont’s strongest cases for these organisations having an impact is their role in the Second World War [in a later draft this will be developed in the citizenship section not included in this draft].  It was out of the milieu around the Women Power Committee that the EPCC was formed in 1943, leading to the Conservative MP and feminist Thelma Cazalet-Kier moving her amendment to the 1944 Education Bill that would have required equal pay for women teachers had not Churchill made its deletion a vote of confidence.  Nonetheless, it led to the creation of a Royal Commission and re-opened the debate on equal pay.  The EPCC continued after the war, chaired by Cazalet-Kier.  Its secretary was Nina (Sara?) Popplewell who had started her political life working with the WPSU in 1911,[27] and then worked for the NCW on women’s employment issues, and the NCW provided the EPCC with its postal address.[28]

The EPCC also a strong relationship with organisations that represented women workers in teaching and the civil service, particularly the Union of Women Teachers and National Association of Women Civil Servants.  It might be a little inaccurate to describe these as trade unions, they were not really involved in the representation of individuals in the workplace.  [later draft, need to look at the relationship of the women TU bodies and the staff side of the Whitley Councils, and the role of these in the move towards equal pay]  Rather, these were groups that had emerged with the first wave of feminism to assert women’s employment rights in these areas of employment.  Thus, the first large post-war rally for equal pay, 1947 in Central Hall, Westminster, was dominated by such women’s organisations.[29]

The report of the Royal Commission landed in the lap of the Labour government in 1946.  Support for equal pay in the Labour Party had been intermittent.  The party’s 1918 manifesto for the first time had promised ‘equal pay and the organisation of men and women workers in one trade union movement’, although alongside this women were presented as ‘the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the home’.[30]  It was only in the 1930s that Labour women, through the Labour Party-Trade Union Standing Joint Committee of Working Women’s Organisations (SJCWWO), demanded ‘similar pay for similar work’.[31]  On the whole, the party’s concern had been for women as housewives, not as workers.  Nonetheless, when by 1948 it became clear that although the Labour government accepted the principal of equal pay it would not be moving quickly towards it, it was the SJCWWO that started to put pressure on the government, demanding meetings with ministers on the issue on equal pay.[32]  The TUC too pushed for faster action[33] while remaining loyal to the government in public.  The Labour Party supported the government’s position on equal pay.  The EPCC began its campaigning in 1949.[34]

In the EPCC Popplewell was superseded as the secretary around 1950 by Gertrude Horton who had been the National Secretary of the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds from 1933 to 1949.  But this did not indicate support from NUTG itself.  Up to 1949 the staff of the NUTG had reflected its origins in the suffrage movement, but a shakeup that year led to a new generation of organisers and many of the older feminists leaving the organisation.  This was the case with Horton,[35] who moved back towards more clearly feminist organisations, becoming the chair of the London and National Society for Women’s Service (the Fawcett Society as it became in 1953).  The NUTG did not support the EPCC.  Thus, there is no evidence that the NUTG was bridging the gap between the two waves of feminism here.  As Mary Stott has commented in her study of the Townswomen’s Guilds, up to 1949 the professional leadership of the guilds nationally were often drawn from the ranks of old suffragists, but their feminism was often subordinated to the non-feminist politics of the mass membership and lay leadership of the organisations, but with the departure of Horton, Franklin and others in 1949, even this connection was much diminished.[36]  The NCW was a different kind of creature.  It was a broad umbrella organisation, inviting affiliation from any organisation that represented women and even some that did not (both ALRA and the anti-reform Society for the Protection for the Unborn Child were affiliated by the late 1960s).  Thus there were mainstream and religious groups affiliated as well as first wave feminists.  The NCW has not been fully studied,[37] but it does appear to have a foot in the camps of both first wave feminist and mainstream women’s organisations.

The Conservatives went into the 1951 election with a commitment to equal pay in the public sector when economic circumstances allowed[38] and thus the EPCC’s continued campaigning was pushing at a door that was ready to open.  There were a number of reasons that the Conservatives were likely to move on equal pay.  First, the economic obstacles to its implementation receded as the post-war boom began.  Second, while some in the Labour party had been concerned about the tendency of equal pay to distribute away from the poorest, such egalitarian considerations were less common in Conservative circles.[39]  Third, as Beaumont points out, the Conservative Party were very much in tune with the interests of potentially Conservative aligned women voters such as clerical workers and teachers who stood to benefit from equal pay.

At the same time there was pressure building up from white collar public sector[40] and engineering unions.  Two feminist groups, the ODC and the SPG approached labour movement organisations for joint campaigns, but were rebuffed.[41]  The EPCC, for its part, had kept mixed unions off of their main committee, relegating them to an advisory body.  The unions responded by establishing their own campaign in 1953, confusingly called the Equal Pay Co-ordinating Committee.  One member of women’s EPCC was ‘horrified’ by such an act of ‘treachery’.[42]  It would appear that the trade union campaign elbowed the women’s EPCC aside and quickly won their demands,[43] with the government announcing exploratory talks in 1954[44] and equal pay being phased in for civil servants and teachers from 1955.[45]

The women’s EPCC then held a celebratory diner and wound itself up, although at least one feminist group in the campaign, the SPG, were horrified by the complacency of such a move when it was clear was equality was little more than formal.  It would appear that this was motivated by some of the leading Conservatives in the campaign, particularly Thelma Cazalet Kier (who had chaired the campaign since 1945).[46]  Although the SPG in particular, and to a lesser degree the ODC, continued to campaign for equal pay after 1955 this had little impact. [47]  The pressure from this date came almost entirely from women in the mainstream trade union movement, possibly in part reflecting agitation by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).[48]  From 1960 onwards the TUC’s National Women’s Advisory Committee regularly discussed equal pay.[49]   In November 1966 both the SPG and the Status of Women Committee (an umbrella group that had developed a new lease of life when the Conservative MP, Joan Vickers, became chair in the early 1960s) thought the time right for a new campaign.[50]  The SWC sought the advice of Popplewell, and she suggested that the campaign would need an organiser and resources of clerical staff, an office and money, but that since none of these were available a campaign could not be effectively mounted.[51]  The SWC struggled to mount a campaign, aiming very low with a proposal to campaign on the position of women in the Bank of England[52] and ultimately did little more than write letters to government ministers telling them to hurry up.[53]  In the meantime the SPG tried to involve itself in a cause celebre of a female bus conductor who refused training as a driver, but the conductor was uninterested.[54]  Ultimately, these groups did little more than observe the mounting pressure from women in the trade unions.

The only campaign on equal pay in the late 1960s, the National Joint Action Campaign Committee for Equal Rights (NJACCER), was launched in 1968 by Fred Blake,[55] one of the shop stewards at the centre of the Ford Dagenham strike earlier that year.  The NJACCER at least counted the Fawcett Society, the Status of Women Committee (SWC) and ODC amongst its affiliates, but no mainstream women’s organisation was affiliated.[56]  The SWC later protested that their name had been included on the NJACCER’s letter paper as an affiliate, which they were not and they withdrew from involvement complaining of CPGB involvement in the campaign.[57]  The SWC and Fawcett Society attempted to establish a new committee on equal pay in January 1970, but this was rather later given the Equal Pay Bill was already starting its speedy passage through parliament[58] and nothing appears to have come of this.  The SPG had a private meeting with Barbara Castle (the minister responsible of the Equal Pay Bill) in the spring of 1970, but this was no more than a courtesy from Castle who had a long relationship with the first wave groups.[59]

With equal pay the case for mainstream women’s organisations being involved is stronger than with abortion.  Again, the involvement is entirely from the National Council of Women, which played some role in the establishment of the EPCC in the late 1940s.  This campaign ended in 1955 and after this first wave feminist groups acted on their own.  The real pressure for equal pay did not come from the first wave feminists but from women’s organisations in the labour movement and women in the trades unions.



Divorce was a complicated area for feminists and women’s organisations in the period of Beaumont’s study.  To us, with our sensibilities attuned by an age of both second wave feminism with its negative view of marriage as an social institution of patriarchal power, and neo-liberal individualist views of marriage as a voluntary contract[60] it is a leap of historical imagination to understand a time where many women’s greatest fear was of the loss of the relative financial stability that marriage offered many women.  Although most reforms of divorce have shown that around two-thirds of the pent up desire for divorce is that of women, between 1928 and 1970 feminist groups and mainstream women’s organisations concentrated on the financial position of married, separated and divorced women rather than on access to divorce itself.

How divorce was seen can potentially tell us much about the women’s movement exactly because it pulls in different directions.  It is easy for an organisation to support equal pay even if they believe that a woman’s role is primarily domestic (if a women does work then at least she should be paid as much as a man), and the case for abortion was more often framed in the context of saving women from too many children, not Stella Browne’s freeing women’s sexuality from the fear of pregnancy.[61]  Divorce was much more problematic where protecting women’s status and security within marriage could be best protected by opposing reform but giving women a greater right to break the bonds of marriage was enhanced by supporting reform.  Most women’s organisation while not accepting the inequality between men and in their engagement with paid work, recognised this existed and thus were at best cautious about supporting reform of the divorce laws.  Women’s organisations were primarily concerned with protecting the financial security of women be they married, separated or divorced.  This could sometimes mask the differences between an organisation such as the Mothers’ Union who was opposed to divorce which they believed would undermine women’s role as mother and wife, and most of the secular groups who believed in easier access to divorce but that it had to be accompanied by measures to ensure that women were not left in poverty.

This point also underscores the gulf between the first and second waves of feminism.  In the first wave there was a tendency to believe that women needed to be protected from divorce, although at the same time arguing against double moral standards and for an equalisation of the grounds for divorce.  Millicent Fawcett’s reaction to the 1909-1913 Royal Commission on Divorce and Matrimonial Causes (the Gorell Commission) was that access to divorce should be equalised for men and women not by making it easier for women to gain a divorce but harder for men.[62]  [This may not be a fair representation of her views, and needs more work] The second wave were hostile to marriage as a prison for women and welcomed weakening it as an institution while insisting that women should be economically independent of men.  The mainstream organisation of women highlighted in Housewives and Citizens reflected only the first wave feminist view.  If one wants to look for a bridge between the two, one is left again looking at the labour movement and campaigning groups.

On divorce Beaumont presented an interesting discussion of how the MU and CWL maintained their opposition to divorce and sought to maintain the institution of marriage, the NUTG and WI avoided discussing such a divisive issue.  So again, as far as reform is concerned, the NCW is left bearing the whole weight for the mainstream women’s moment.  The material here is scant.  The NCW supported the 1937 Herbert Bill which put into law the recommendations of the Gorell Commission which had been left hanging since the Royal Commission had issued its report in 1912.  This formally equalised the grounds of divorce for men and women while leaving in place the principle that divorce was based on matrimonial offence and was the right only of the party who had been offended against.[63]

The period after the Herbert Act was one of slow reform ending with the 1969 Divorce Reform Act which removed the idea of matrimonial offence from divorce law and extended the grounds to separation, and then with creation of the 1978 Special Procedure did de facto divorce by consent arrive.[64]  There are two telling pieces of evidence presented by Beaumont here.  The process was precipitated by the Labour MP Eirene White’s PMB of 1951 (although it was preceded by a similar attempt by another Labour backbench, Maurice Lipton) which led the Labour government to establish a Royal Commission, which again points to the continuing importance of the labour movement as the bridge between the first and second waves of feminism (although I would suggest in the case of divorce, this is problematic).  Second, in its submission to the Royal Commission, the NCW had to point out that the diversity of its membership meant that it would not present a united front and thus were limited to reiterating the need for equality in property and divorce.[65]  What is notable about this is that it exactly makes Pugh’s point, that the NCW was too diverse to have an impact, which Beaumont has set out her stall against.  [Next draft, look in detail at the NCW submission and their archival material, deliberation of the RC etc.]

So, as with abortion, there was no common front of women’s organisations on divorce.  Even when in the 1930s the Church of England began to soften its position on divorce, the Mothers’ Union remained steadfast in its position that this was a union that should not be put asunder.  The Catholic Women’s League was in lockstep with their church that divorce was impermissible.  The NUTG and WI saw these as divisive areas where they should not venture.  Thus again it was the NCW alone that had a view, which Beaumont suggests was ‘outspoken’.[66]  There is little evidence of such stridency presented, far less that the NCW put itself at the centre of the debate.  The NCW were certainly highlighting issues on inequality surrounding divorce at this time (the right of a married woman to establish her own domicile and maintain her nationality), but on the central issues of divorce remained silent.[67]

There was more radical thinking around at the time, although as explained above this was not necessarily sensitive to the position that many women were in.  There were two reform groups active after 1945.  The more cautious was the Divorce Law Reform Union (DLRU), dating back to the 1900s this had been force behind the Herbert Bill, the more radical being the Marriage Law Reform Society (MLRS) which had been formed in 1946 and had its roots in HG Wells and CEM Joad’s Progressive League.[68]  It was the MLRS which was to have more influence on the Labour Party in the post-war period.  In 1948 the MLRS’s Robert Pollard wrote a policy paper for the Labour Party’s research department which recommended divorce by consent,[69] and it was MRLS ideas that informed Lipton’s and White’s PMBs in the early in 1949 and 1951.  White’s bill was drafted by the society of Labour Lawyers in co-operation with the MLRS.[70]  The Labour government, not wanting to reform the grounds for divorce, reacted by setting up another Royal Commission[71] (the Morton Commission) which took until 1956 to publish a report that did little to advance the debate let alone produce clear proposals. [72]

The MRLS briefly merged with the DLRU in the 1950s taking the latter’s name,[73] but fittingly they did not get on and having campaigned for a while under their maiden names, separated.  The MRLS disappeared from view.  What remained, however, was the difference between the two.  The split had been over a draft bill proposed by the DLRU which suggested that breakdown should be grounds for divorce but that the court had the right to investigate whether that breakdown was real.  The MLRS thought that this was an unwarranted intrusion and that four years separation alone was evidence of breakdown.[74]  This distinction was between provable breakdown and separation was to be important in the reform process in the 1960s.

The Divorce(Insanity and Desertion) Act of 1958, the Legitimacy Act 1960, the Matrimonial Proceedings (Magistrates Courts) Act 1960 and the Magistrates Courts (Matrimonial Proceedings) Act 1960 all made small changes in the wake of the report.[75]  [In the next draft of this piece I will be attempting to unpick what the NCW’s role in this was, but I have not looked at this material yet.]  But as far as reform aimed at the architecture of divorce law continued, it was largely due to liberal lawyers and Labour backbenchers.  The genesis of this process lies in a PMB by Leo Abse in 1963 which followed the MLRS line of separation being grounds for divorce.  His bill sought to allow seven years separation with offence by either party, seven years without offence by consent and for the divorce process to allow for reconciliation.  The first two were contentious, and were removed to allow the third to be passed as a minor reform.[76]  But in process the Archbishop of Canterbury, Michael Ramsay, pledged to support reform if it were possible:

to find a principle at law of breakdown of marriage which was free from any trace of the idea of consent … I would wish to consider it.  Indeed, I am asking some of my fellow churchmen to see whether it is possible to work at this idea, sociologically as well as doctrinally.[77]

As Lewis and Wallis have shown, Ramsay had considerable encouragement from Conservative government ministers, and discussions had already started in the Church pointing to a preferred outcome of recommending that the courts have an inquisitorial role in granting divorces on the grounds of breakdown, a proposal similar to the DLRU proposal of 1960 (it had also been proposed as early as 1956 by the reforming lawyer Otto Kahn-Freund).[78]  Ramsay appointed a committee whose members were selected to agree with this view on breakdown.[79]  This was probably intended to pave the way to a moderate Conservative reform, but had a greater impact in moving Conservative opinion closer to the idea that the de facto break up of marriages should be matched by its de jure recognition. By the time the report, Putting Asunder, was published in 1966 a reform-minded Labour government was in power,[80] [81]and this galvanised the reform process.  This support of the Church’s leadership supporting reform is in contrast to the Church of England women in the Mothers’ Union opposing these moves. There is, however, no evidence of the secular women’s organisations having a positive input [next draft: more needs to be done to back this up]

The running on reform was made by the Labour government’s newly established Law Commission which, in November 1966, published its response.  After some negotiations with the Archbishop’s group the Law Commission produced a joint statement being published in July 1967 which proposed that breakdown should be the only grounds for divorce, but the Church’s intention that the court should investigate such a breakdown was replaced with some more straightforward evidential indicators which were similar to the old matrimonial offences but without the burden of proof since they were now transformed into indicators of breakdown and would have no role in assigning guilt.  More contentiously, it was proposed to allow the ‘guilty’ party to seek divorce, albeit after five years’ separation.  Two years’ separation in itself was proposed as an indicator of breakdown if both parties agreed, which appeared to be divorce by consent.[82]  Critics, with some justification, argued this went further than the reformers claimed in undermining marriage.

This rapidly changing climate encouraged the Labour backbencher Leo Abse to renew his campaign for reform after the 1966 election.[83]  The DLRU began to have a renewed impact, although this appeared to have consisted solely of Alistair Service acting as its Parliamentary Liaison Officer,[84] having fulfilled a similar role for ALRA.  Their demands were those of the Church-Law Commission agreement[85] with financial safeguards for dependent wives.[86]  The government handed a Labour backbencher, Bill Wilson, a bill which would go through parliament as a Private Members Bill but was a government measure in all but name.[87]

The problem that the bill faced was not right wing and moralist opposition to the measures, with the government allowing time for the bill and with strong support on the Labour benches, this was unlikely to impede the bill.  More important was the financial plight of potential divorcées, an area where the reformers professed sympathy but lacked clear proposals.  The Labour government had started well in protecting women.  After the Law Lords overturned a case law right of a deserted woman to the matrimonial home in 1965,[88] the Lord Chancellor suggested to Baroness (Edith) Summerskill that this could be a matter for a PMB[89] resulting in the Matrimonial Homes Act, 1967.[90]  Further reform was more difficult.  Some hoped for a more equal future, as Service wrote in 1968 divorced women would continue to face hardship until women became economically independent through work, something that could be, he added, supported with more childcare.[91]  Such promise of a better tomorrow was of little help to dependent women facing the real prospect of hardship.

In the absence of an immediate solution, both the remains of first wave feminism and mainstream women’s organisations made reform of divorce contingent to finding a solution to the issue of maintenance.  Baroness Summerskill told the Law Commission in 1967 there was no pressing need for divorce law reform, just reform of maintenance and matrimonial property law[92] and opposed reform in the Lords.  The SPG also opposed reform without protection for women [93] and in 1968 asked Joyce Butler[94] to call a meeting of feminist groups in the House of Commons[95] although no meeting was called.  The non-feminist NCW’s support for reform was conditional on these concerns being met[96] and thought that this might only be solved in the long-term by women having independent National Insurance contributions based on their own careers.[97]  The NCW held a conference on 1st February 1968, when reform was well in train, and voted heavily that while they were not against liberalisation of divorce on the grounds of irrevocable breakdown per se, financial provision for women needed to be included in the package.  They also thought that such breakdown needed to be ‘proved’ in court, the tougher formulation of the original Putting Asunder proposals.[98]  Similarly, the Women’s Group on Public Welfare argued against 5 years separation being grounds for divorce without fault, which was the main difference between the proposals and the existing codification of matrimonial offence.[99]  According to The Economist the only women’s organisation that supported reform without such equivocations was the Townswomen’s Guild.[100]  This casts doubt on the claim made in the Commons by the pro-reform Conservative MP Joan Vickers later in February 1968 that of the 21 women’s organisations affiliated to the Status of Women Committee which she chaired, only two had expressed reservations about the bill.[101]  [In the next draft: Unpicking what this meant will be necessary for understanding the impact of women’s organisation on the reform of divorce law in this period]

With the bill going to committee in the Commons in the spring of 1968, Service, who was acting as an unofficial whip, reported back to the Law Commission that more would need to done to ensure the bill’s passage since there was a growing uneasiness about the protection women would receive[102] and the first attempt to pass reform legislation foundered on this issue.  In the next Parliamentary session another Labour backbencher picked up the bill.  The bill did not need this extra help and received a second reading in the Commons in December 1968 by 183 votes to 106.[103]  But there was still nothing in the new bill that allayed the fear that women could be seriously disadvantaged.  Early in 1969 another Labour backbencher, Edward Bishop, published his Matrimonial Property Bill, probably written by Olive Stone, a reader in law at the LSE.[104]  The bill proposed to split all property and savings accumulated over the course of a marriage equally on divorce.[105]  Unsurprisingly the bill attracted the support from SPG, the Married Women’s Association, NCW and Labour’s NJCWWO[106] as well as the PLP.  The government did not endorse the bill’s detailed provisions which they held to be unworkable.[107]  So, in order to facilitate the passage of the Jones Bill during its committee stage, the government undertook to take the principles of the Bishop Bill forward through government legislation, and to amend any divorce law reform so that it would not come into force until this was done.[108]  This became the Matrimonial Property and Proceedings Act which was rushed through Parliament being given its Royal Assent on the day that Parliament was dissolved before the 1970 general election.[109]  In combination with this, the Divorce Reform Act came into force in 1971.

Understanding the impact of mainstream women’s organisations on divorce law reform is still a work in progress, but there are a number of tentative conclusions that can be drawn.

First, broadly based women’s organisations did not strongly support divorce reform in this period.  Since their base was women who were, for the most part, financially dependent on their husbands, divorce ultimately meant not only financial uncertainty but the dissolution of their role.  While this was most clearly demonstrated with the Mothers’ Union and CWL where the view of women’s role was reinforced with religious conviction, it may have been a factor in the mainstream secular groups too.  Second, where women’s organisations undoubtedly had an effect was in demanding greater protection for divorced women and ensuring that the Divorce Act was accompanied by the 1970 Matrimonial Property and Proceedings Act.

Beyond this, it is possible to speculate that there was a transition happening which marked the beginning of the decline of the patriarchal family with women as economically independent individuals emerging from the domestic sphere.  The Law Commission, in the person of John Cartwright Sharp, a longstanding member of the Society of Labour Lawyers, was in 1966 corresponding with Philip Lewis of All Souls College, Oxford, who told him that the ‘pooling of earnings was very popular with younger couples when both are earning.  They budget, save, and each take their pocket money on an equal footing.  Zweig[110] thinks that this arrangement is spreading with young couples.’[111]  This created a pressure for easier access divorces since the two parties were more financially independent.  A similar point was made by Abse at the second reading of Wilson’s Bill in early 1968, ‘the family is becoming more democratic, more egalitarian.  It is becoming a place where money is shared, where the house may be purchased jointly’.[112]  This might be considered to underpin the first wave of feminism (and the mainstream women’s organisations which Beaumont studies) be which was women  primarily in a social position of wives and mothers.  The second wave of feminism represented this becoming less true as women were increasingly active in the workforce.

There is some truth in the counter-argument to this that these organisations did not see an idealised women’s sphere of hearth and home and that particularly the NCW and NUTG were also based on a layer of professional women.  If this study were extended to look at the National Federation of Professional and Business Women’s Club and the National Federation of University Women this would create a more nuanced picture.  Leaving aside such nuances, on the whole the organisations in Beaumont’s studies attempted to build a sense of women’s citizenship and entitlement based on their role as housewives and mothers.  This has sometimes been called difference feminism, but has proven to be something of an historical cul-de-sac since women being drawn into the workforce and other aspects of public life has proven to be a much greater force in the struggle for equal citizenship and one that is much more characteristic of the period of the second wave of feminism.

In relation to this, it is notable that the Mothers’ Union were less liberal on reforms affecting women than the mainstream Anglican Church.  Secularisation happened less quickly amongst women than men.  It is possible to speculate that women continued to understand their role in religious and moral terms and only their emergence into an individualised public sphere eroded this.

Overall, this detailed study on the making of divorce reform policy does not support the main hypotheses that Beaumont brings forward.  The NCW was unable to present a united front on divorce, and while women’s organisations had an impact on shaping maintenance, on divorce itself they were only a break on reform.  There is no sign that they formed a bridge between the first and second waves.  I would suggest, for the reasons outlined above, there is no such continuity.  As far as there was a reforming tradition, if it had a political home it was only in the Labour Party.


[This section will be more developed in the next draft.  Unfortunately, this is an area where I have no strong primary research of my own to bring to bear so my comments here (at least in this draft) will be limited and, to a degree, speculative]

It is almost certainly the case that the strongest area of these women’s campaigning influence was in the development of welfare services, and to a degree this counterbalances the weaker impact these organisations had on abortion law reform and divorce.  Beaumont’s thesis is that women winning the vote 1918-1928 did not lead to their full admission to citizenship since this also included the rights to social citizenship that was based on working.  Thus, men who paid National Insurance had access to the benefits of the emerging welfare state such as pensions, some health care and unemployment benefits whereas as women who did not work had no access to these (although even those who did had unequal access to them).  Thus, what these mainstream organisations were attempting was to redefine this social citizenship to include women who worked in the home and thus include women in these welfare benefits.

The Beveridge Report, in some ways a blue print for some aspects of the post-war welfare state, assumed men’s breadwinning role would continue, and while recognising the importance of women’s domestic role continued to use an insurance based model of the welfare state.  Thus Beaumont highlights, in the NCW’s words, that this led to a ‘denial of any personal status to woman because she is married, the denial of her independent personality within marriage … far from putting a premium on marriage, as its purports to do, the [Beveridge] Plan penalises both the married woman and marriage itself.’[113]  This leads Beaumont to the conclusion that women played a bigger role in the struggle for the welfare state than is sometimes thought, although again other than the quite reasonable criticisms that the NCW made of Beveridge, there is little evidence of how these mainstream women’s groups affected policy beyond a successful (and important) campaign for Family Allowance to be paid to women rather than men.[114]

In this, and the discussion of post-war reconstruction in general, there are I think, two problems with Beaumont’s approach.  The first is the assumption that mainstream women’s organisations argued for something, and then the government did that thing, then there is a causal link.  Thus, the NCW argued for homes to be built to a better standard with hot running water, tiled bathrooms and decent kitchens.  A similar view was contained in the 1944 Design of Dwellings Report, but this does not prove the NCW’s campaign was ‘effective and successful’[115]  It might have been one contributory factor, or it might have reflected ideas that were current at the time and likely to be included in the report anyhow.  So the NCW may have had no impact on policy makers at all.  As elsewhere, more careful examination of the policy making process is needed.  A second is that more unity is assumed in the women’s movement than existed.  To this end, Beaumont quotes James Hinton’s view that the post-war British Housewives League was not a Conservative Party front, which is true in a technical sense, but it was very much on the political right.  Indeed, women from the Communist Party disrupted its Albert Hall Rally of 1947 leading to the press to report an ‘impressive brawl’.  Women were divided on class lines in this period, at times starkly.  [This needs more development]

The list of areas where Beaumont thinks that women had an effect is telling: the earnings limit on pensions contributions, the right of parents to visit children in hospital and turnstiles (rather than penny in the door) toilets[116] where women’s organisations had demonstrable effect may each effect some women’s lives, but they were all away for the heart of political debate. [and more development here]


Women and citizenship

[To be developed in next draft.  The last strong area is that these organisations were a conduit of women to a life outside of a home.  Need to use the TG and elections material here]


Beaumont’s book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of the role of mainstream women’s organisations in the period between the first and second waves of feminism.  Her point that these organisations have been neglected is true, and Housewives and Citizens is at least a start of the process of redressing that imbalance.  It is perhaps in the nature of a work that walks where there is no path established that it raises more questions than it answers.  There is the need for a serious examination of the history of the National Council of Women.  The Mothers’ Union and other religious women’s groups need to be further understood in relation to secularisation in the twentieth century, and particularly in the context (as Callum Brown has argued)[117] that such a process is gendered with women holding onto religious identities longer than men.  Another direction out of this research is how many from the first wave of feminism found their homes in middle-class and conservative leaning organisations such as the Townswomen’s Guild.

All of these cut across what might be regarded as the orthodox view, that there was rupture between the first and second waves of feminism, and if there was continuity this was in the Labour Party where some feminist ideas persevered, although sometimes in an uneasy relationship with androcentric labourism.  Beaumont’s history is revisionist against that orthodoxy, and it is thus unsurprising that the orthodoxy will bite back, and that is the conclusion here.

Without wishing to pre-empt future research I would offer the following speculative conclusions that cut against Beaumont’s thesis.  First, these five organisations do not constitute any form of movement.  The Mothers’ Union and Catholic Women’s League had very little in common with the National Council of Women.  The Mothers’ Union and CWL were unwilling to engage in the campaigning work that would have effectively communicated women’s views except on issues where they were defending a narrow, conservative and religious view of women’s role.  Thus their main impact in this period was in opposing divorce and abortion law reform (and also, which I have not covered here, wider availability of birth control and advice).  The National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds and the National Federation of Women’s Institutes were somewhat suspended between the more secular, political and campaigning NCW and the religious groups, a delicate balancing that they required in order to maintain unity in their organisations.  That the NUTG appears to become more progressive by the 1960s, supporting both abortion and divorce law reform, is explained neither by Beaumont nor in Stott’s study of the NUTG.[118]  It would be interesting to see more primary research for the NUTG, although this may be limited by its archive being kept under lock and key in the organisation’s Birmingham offices.

Second, even the most effective of these five organisations, the NCW, did not have a great impact on policy formation in this period.  Although it is possible to point to instances where it was part of a coalition that successfully affected policy in the interests of women (family allowance begin paid to women, the need to have stronger policy on maintenance alongside divorce law reform) in most cases its role was marginal in the policy making process.  In the campaign for equal pay while the NCW played a positive but pivotal role in raising the demand for equal pay for women civil servants and teachers from 1943 to 1955, after that it played no role.  In the campaign for abortion law reform the NCW’s impact was limited by its own internal division.

Thirdly, there is little evidence to commend the view that these organisations form a link between the first and second waves of feminism (or that the distinction between them is not as hard and fast as it is sometimes assumed), although in the case of the NCW and to a degree the NUTG the impact of the first wave could be seen in these organisatons.  What the evidence emphasises are the differences between the first and second waves of feminism and their discontinuity.  The NCW and NUTG had some relationship to the first wave, but in many ways showed their more conservative side that accepted that women would remain housewives and mothers.  What the second wave of feminism took from the first was its radicalism, and developed ideas that domestic work should be shared or collectivised, that gender roles should be abolished and the distinction between the public and the private sphere abolished.  If the NCW et al had formed a bridge into the second wave of feminism, it would have been a cautious and conservative movement, more Women’s Realm than Spare Rib.

Emphasising this hypothesised connection between the mainstream organisations Beaumont’s book ends on (what to my ear to is) a false note suggesting that these organisations emphasised that the personal was political long before the second wave feminists did.[119]  The phrase ‘the personal is political’ was coined in 1969 by the US second wave feminist Carol Hanisch.  The slogan has taken on a life of its own, but in Hanisch’s original usage it was her defence of consciousness-raising feminist meetings that were castigated as ‘personal’ by feminists who counterposed them to more ‘political’ action.  Hanisch wrote:

the reason I participate in these meetings is not to solve any personal problem.  One of the first things we discover in these groups is that personal problems are political problems. There are no personal solutions at this time. There is only collective action for a collective solution … I’ve been forced to take off the rose colored glasses and face the awful truth about how grim my life really is as a woman.[120]

It is difficult to imagine a member of the Women’s Institute seeing her activities in such terms.

[1] Sheila Rowbotham, Hidden from History (London: Pluto, 1973), px.

[2] Olive Banks, The Faces of Feminism (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986).

[3] Pugh, Women and the Women’s Movement, p309-12.

[4] Wilson, Only Halfway to Paradise, pp34-71, 201.

[5] Caitriona Beaumont, Housewives and Citizens: Domesticity and the Women’s Movement in England, 1928-1964 (Manchester: MUP, 2013), p1.  [Henceforth Housewives and Citizens]

[6] Ibid., p217.

[7]  Housewives and Citizens, p2

[8] Mary Stott, Organization Woman: The Story of the National Union of Townswomen’s Guilds (London: Heinemann, 1978), pp13-15, 173-174,

[9] Barbara Brookes, Abortion in England 1900-1967, (London: Croom Held, 1988), p107.

[10]  Ibid., pp125-7.

[11] ‘Change In Abortion Law Proposed’, The Times, 20/12/1952.

[12] ALRA Archive, The Wellcome Library, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/452-517, Houghton to Williams, 12/02/1965,.  [Henceforth ALRA Archive][There is a report that I have read somewhere that Jenkins had a shouting match with Bouland, but I don’t know where. Brookes, Abortion in England,.p148.

[13] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/452-517, note on the NCW (Simms), 08/01/1964.

[14] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/452-517, Report of AGM of Harpenden branch of NCW 25/6/64 (Munday). (Parentheses in original),.

[15] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/452-517, Munday to Dinnick-Parr, 11/12/1964,.

[16] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/452-517, NCW Resolutions passed at the Annual Conference. October 1965,

[17] ‘Abortion Bill Loses Some Backing ‘, The Times, 21/3/1967.

[18] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/518-601National Council of Women, ALRA memo on NCW 25/3/67.

[19] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/518-601, Houghton to Boulind, 21/03/1967 and Memo on NCW, 23/03/1967,.; ‘Split threat to Council of Women’, Daily Telegraph, 6/4/1967.

[20] This is all very much reading between the lines.

[21] Abortion: ‘Vital options’ in The Birmingham Post 24/5/1967.

[22] Stott, Organization Woman, p?

[23] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/699-800 (file on the Townswomen’s Guild).

[24] ALRA Archive ,CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/313, Organisations which support abortion law reform, 6/7/1965.

[25] Shelia Rowbotham, A New World for Women, (London: Pluto, 1977), p27.

[26] The Labour party Report on Equal pay for Equal work and First Steps Towards a Domestic Workers Charter (1930)

[28] EPCC Newsletter no. 1, n.d. [c. 2/1949], Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/05,.

[29]  Leaflet, “Equal pay for equal work”, 30/01/1947, Women’s library, 5SPG/FL 531/SPG/F4,

[30] 1918 Labour Party General Election Manifesto, <; (accessed 1/11/2009).

[31] ‘Report on Equal pay for Equal work and first steps towards a domestic workers charter’, 03/06/1930, Women’s Library, FL597/7/AMP/F10/1-2.

[32] Minutes of meeting of the SJCWWO’s 10/7/47, Card 353/432, Labour Party (Great Britain) (n.d.), National Executive Committee Minutes, Brighton: Harvester Press, Fiche 372/ Sheet 248. (Henceforth as LPNEC/Fiche number/sheet number); Minutes of the General purposes committee of the SJCWWOO 14/8/47, LPNEC?354/493; Minutes of the general purposes committee of the SJCWWOO 29/7/48,                LPNEC/364/464,

[33] . Letter from E Fletcher (TUC Research and Economic Dept) to Michael Young, 24th January 1949, Labour History Archive and Study, LP GS WOM

[34] EPCC Newsletter no. 1, n.d. [c. 2/1949], Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/05; EPCC newsletter No 7, Oct 1949, Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/05.

[35] Stott, Organization Woman, pp119-120

[36] Stott, Organization Woman, p?

[37] The main reference works are the council’s own anniversary histories, which are celebratory rather rigorous works.  Most recently, Daphne Glick, The National Council of Women of Great Britain : the first one hundred years, 1895-1994 (London: NCW, 1994).

[38] Britain: Strong and Free.  A statement by the Conservative and Unionist Party October 1951.

[39] The National Archive: Public Record Office, T215/778, Equal pay: National staff side meeting the Treasury Minsters, 13/12/1951 [Henceforth, TNA: PRO]

[40] TNA: PRO T 215/486, Gaitskell to Tewson, 20/06/1951.

[41] Open Door Council [circular containing  resolutions passed at conference of 27/11/52], Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/08; Minutes of the SJCWWO, 10/07/1952, LPNEC/436/835.

[42] Miss HC Hart [GS NAWCS] to Horton, 28/12/1953, Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/21.

[43] Clear the Way for Equal Pay [Co-ordinating committee leaflet], Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/21.

[44] EPCC, “A black record: Supplementary note”. April 1954, Women’s Library, 6EPC/02/2/06.

[45] ref

[46] SPG circular, “Mr. Butler and the Milestone Diner”, 09/11/1955, Women’s Library, 5SPG/FL 531/SPG/F

[47] ODC: Annual report 1964, Women’s Library, FL 386/5ODC/A1-26; The Fawcett Society seems to have done little in this period although there is some evidence that it carried out some agitation on the issue. Circular letter, The Fawcett Society, Equal pay for equal work, September 1964, Women’s Library, 5SPG/FL 535/SPG/I6.  There is a problem that the Fawcett Society is not considered in many of the histories of feminism in this period since its papers after 1940 are not catalogued.

[48] A series of letters on women’s pay, Labour Review, April 1957 onwards, p280, pp329-30, p376,p428-9, p474, p568

[49] TUC NWAC 5/3 Women’s one day discussion conference to be held 25/5/61, provisional agenda, TUC Archive, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, MSS  292B/60.25/7.  [Henceforth, TUCA]

[50] Circular letter from Campbell, SPG, 17th November 1966, Women’s Library, FL591/7/AMP/B8/8(2); Letter, from Pierotti to Miss Henshaw, 17/11/1966, Women’s Library, FL591/7/AMP/B8/8(2)

[51] Sara Popplewell  hand written notes on equal pay,   19/11/1966, Women’s Library, FL591/7/AMP/B8/8(2).

[52] SPG newsletter, April 1967, Women’s Library, FL538/5SPG/J/60-93.

[53] SWC minutes 01/10/1968, Women’s Library, FL 588/7AMP/B1/4.

[54] Stella Hayward to Brenda Armstrong, 30/06/1967, Women’s Library, FL527/SPG/C13.y

[55] Leaflet of the National Joint Action Campaign Committee for Equal Rights. for meeting at House of Commons, 21/11/1968, TUCA, 292B/119/2.

[56] Circ. Letter from Fred Blake, The NJACC for Equal Rights, 30/12/1968 , Women’s Library, 5SPG/FL 530/SPG/F2; SPG EC minutes 07/01/1969, Women’s Library, FL 524/SPG/a162-194.

[57] SWC minutes, 27/02/1969, Women’s Library, FL 588 7AMP/B1/4/

[58] Circular to members  19/01/1970, Women’s Library, FL 547/SPG M11/HHH “abortion” 1966-1977; Note from Millicent Elliot (Sec, SWC) to Pierotti, 19/1/1970, Women’s Library, FL 588/7AMP/B1/5.

[59] Circ, letter from Hazel Hunkins-Hallian (SPG), 20/1/1970, TUCA, MSS 292B 119 5; SPG newsletter April 1970, Women’s Library, FL538 SPG/J94-113.

[60] Jane Lewis, The End of Marriage?: Individualism and Intimate Relations, (Cheltenham:  Edward Elgar, 2001), p3.

[61] Lesley A Hall, The Life and Times of Stella Browne, (London: Taurus, 2011), pp183, 205-206

[62] Susan Kingsley Kent, Sex and Suffrage in Britain 1860-1914 (London: Taylor and Francis eBook), no page number.

[63] Citizen and Housewives, p75

[64] Colin Gibson, Dissolving Wedlock (London: Routledge, 1994), pp99-109.

[65] Housewives and Citizens, pp201-202.

[66] Ibid, p69.

[67] [This needs to be substantiated more in NCW archives.]

[68] Stephen Pollard, Letter, The Guardian, 11/12/1946.

[69] RD 104, marriage and divorce law reform (1948) (Robert Pollard), card 43, British Labour Party Research Department memoranda and information papers [microfiche], 1941-1979, (Marlborough: Adam Matthew, 1993) LP research dept papers microfiche

[70] Archives of the Society of Labour Lawyers, LSE SLL/6/15, Pollard to Cartwright-Sharp  [c.01/07/1950]; Barnes to White, 30/01/1951. [Henceforth LSE/SLL]

[71] TNA: PRO CAB128/19, CM(51)18th, 08/03/1951; CM(51)19, 12/03/1951.

[72] Lee, Divorce Law Reform, pp31-32.

[73] LSE/SLL/6/15, Just Cause (20), [c.23/11/1956];Letter from Meston et al, The Times, 22/11/1956.

[74]; New divorce law reform plan: Children’s interests overriding’ and ‘New Basis Urged for Divorce, The Guardian, 9/11/1958 and ’10/11/1958; ‘Divorce Reformers Separate’, The Observer, 6/11/1960; ‘”Breakdown of marriage” as cause for divorce’, The Guardian, 15/11/1960

[75] BH Lee,  Divorce law Reform in England, (London: Peter Owen, 1974), p32

[76] Lee, Divorce Law Reform, pp28-3; The Times, 09/02/1964.

[77] House of Lords Debates, 21/6/1963, vol 250 c 1547.

[78] Otto Kahn-Freund, ‘Divorce Law Reform?’, Modem Law Review, 19 (1956), p584.

[79] Jane Lewis and Patrick Wallis, ‘Fault, Breakdown, and the Church of England’s Involvement in the 1969 Divorce Reform’, Twentieth Century British History, 11/3 (2000), p321-324.

[80] Monrad Paulsen, ‘Divorce-Canterbury style’, New Society, 4/8/1966.

[81] Putting Asunder (London: SPCK, 1966).

[82] Report, New Law Journal 3/08/1967.

[83] Leo Abse, ‘A new deal for divorce’, Tribune 12/8/1966.

[84] Lee, Divorce Law Reform, p79.

[85] TNA: PRO BC3/378, DLRU leaflet ‘Divorce in a modern Society’ [c.01/06/1967].

[86] TNA: PRO BC3/377, [Press release of Mr RV Banks speech to the DLRU at Caxton House, 17/08/1967]; The Times, 18/8/1967.

[87] TNA: PRO BC3/378, [Unsigned] to Dobson, 24/11/1967.

[88] ‘End Of The “Deserted Wife’s Equity”‘, The Times, 14/5/1965.

[89] TNA: PRO CAB134/1999, H(65)51, 14/06/1965; House of Lords Debates, 25/05/1965, vol266 c825.

[90] Olive Stone, ‘Matrimonial Homes Act 1967’, Modern Law Review, 31/3 (1968), p305; ‘ Move To Increase Wives’ Rights’, The Times, 19/2/1966.

[91] Letter, New Society, 11/4/1968.

[92] TNA: PRO BC3/378 Bogies-Rolfe to Dobson, 10/11/1967.

[93] SPG newsletter June 1968, Women’s Library, FL538/5SPG/J/60-93.

[94] 1910-1992.  Labour MP, Wood Green (1955-1979).

[95] SPG Executive 12/03/1968, Women’s Library, FL524/SPG/a162-194.

[96] ALRA Archive, CMA/SA/ALR/A.4/4/518-601, NCW Circular on Divorce Law Reform, 21/11/1967; TNA: PRO BC3/378 Boulind to Lord Chancellor, 23/11/1967.

[97] TNA: PRO BC3/380, Divorce Law Reform, March 1968.

[98] ‘Bill “grossly unfair” to older divorcees; The Guardian (1959-2003); 2/2/1968;

ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Guardian (1821

[99] Lee, Divorce Law Reformed pp100, 150-151.

[100] ‘Divorce: another chance’, The Economist ,14/12/1968.

[101] House of Commons Debates, 09/02/1968, vol758 c846.

[102] TNA: PRO BC3/380, Service to Cartwright Sharp, 11/04/1968.

[103] House of Commons Debates,17/12/1968, vol775 c1134.

[104] CH Rolph, ‘Women and society marriage and money’, New Statesman, 24/1/1969.

[105] ‘Financial protection for wives in new Bill’, The Times, 3/01/1969.

[106] NJCWWO 16/1/1969, LPNEC/958/353; SPG newsletter, January 1969, Women’s Library, FL538/SPG/J94-113.

[107] [PLP minutes] 23/1/69, item 70 [and attached memo], 23/01/1969, LHASC/PLP.

[108] ‘Ministers’ anxiety on Divorce bill’, Daily Telegraph. 24/4/1969.

[109] House of Commons Debates, 29/5/1970 vol801 c2131.

[110] Probably a reference to Robert Zweig, The Worker in an Affluent Society, 1961.

[111] TNA: PRO BC3/385, Philip [Lewis] to Michael [Cartwright Sharp], 10/06/1966.

[112] House of Commons Debates, 09/02/1968, vol758 c895.

[113] Housewives and Citizens, pp122-123

[114] Housewives and Citizens,, pp125-129

[115] Housewives and Citizens,, 174-175.  [Note, I have used this same example twice and one of them should go]

[116] H and C, 201

[117] Callum Brown, The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000

(2nd edition, London: Routledge, 2009)

[118] Stott, Organization Woman.

[119] Housewives and Citizens, p210

[120] Carol Hanisch, ‘The Personal is political <>  [accessed 11/2/2014]

[Revised, 7th July 2014]


4 responses to “More than jam tomorrow?

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