This Working-Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s) in Britain, 1914-1945

This Working-Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s) in Britain, 1914-1945

This Working-Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s) in Britain, 1914-1945

This Working-Day World: Women's Lives and Culture(s) in Britain, 1914-1945


This is a collection of essays on aspects of British women's lives in the period 1914-1945. Concentrating on women's activities in many different areas ranging from teacher training colleges to women's institutes; the BBC artiste's group to political militancy. This Working Day World presents a women's cultural history that is a kaleidoscope of sub-cultures, covering art, fiction, medicine, political racialism and the personal lives of women.


Sybil Oldfield

Every generation feels it is living in terrible times:

'We have a Government bent on destroying the foundations on which, not so much the greatness, but the very existence of our State depends….'

'I agree with you from the bottom of my heart, ' said Mr. Sykes. 'I see no gleam of light anywhere.' Then the two old friends felt happier, and went indoors. (F.M. Mayor, The Rector's Daughter, 1924)

Yet surely those who were adults between 1914 and 1945 had more reason than any generation this century for despair. They had to endure two worldwide competitions in massacre separated by a world-wide economic slump and the triumph of dictatorships. Nevertheless, this is not a gloomy book. British women's history during this period is not one of passive suffering-far from it. The following essays demonstrate women's insistence on survival and resistance; they focus on women's creativity in the construction of countercultures; and they give due credit to the taken-for-granted, life-enabling work of women in the background, whether that work be the weekly wash, or finding foster homes for refugee children or doing obscure but vital medical research. Our emblematic cover photograph shows two women-perhaps the two faces of women in Britain 1914-1945-one anxious and worn, the other laughing and ready to take on the world.

I think this book is unusual in two ways. First, it looks at more aspects of life than those usually included under 'history', since we include housework, the visual arts, broadcasting, literature, and science. Secondly, it refuses to confine history to the interaction of individuals in power or to the interaction of powerful groups or to the interaction between individuals and powerful groups. Here are several individuals not in power-isolated pacifists in World War One, a single mother in World War Two, a teenage refugee in Manchester-for history is lived singly as well as collectively and it is felt singly more often than it is felt collectively. Whether or not such individual accounts 'deserve a place in the story' is up to the reader to judge. Do we deserve a place in history only if we are clearly representative of others-and of how many others do we have to be representative?

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