History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 - Vol. 4

By Noreen Branson | Go to book overview

4
THE FIGHT FOR EQUALITY
FOR WOMEN

During the war, women began to play a rather more prominent part in the Communist Party than before. More of them were being elected on to their local branch committees, chairing meetings, acting as branch secretaries, treasurers, membership organisers, taking charge of literature sales, and so on. They also figured more frequently as speakers at open-air meetings. At the 1943 Congress, 106 out of 406 delegates were women – 26% – a much higher proportion than in pre-war years.

The conscription of men into the armed services meant that women took over as local activists. However, the major change was the entry of women into work formerly regarded as a male preserve.


THE PRE-WAR BACKGROUND

Between the wars, just over one-third of all women were in paid employment. The majority of those who went to work were young and unmarried; only ten per cent of married women did so. As Joan Beauchamp observed in 1942: ‘Paid work for women was regarded as an interim occupation for unmarried girls … or as a sad burden on widows and other women unfortunate enough to have no male breadwinner to look after them’.1

The majority of married women did not want to go out to work, mainly because their quality of life would be impaired. Although the spread of knowledge concerning contraceptives during the 1920s meant that wives had been relieved of the incessant child-bearing of earlier decades, the standard of comfort in most homes still depended on the presence of someone during the day. Heating came from coal fires which needed constant attention; few had refrigerators, so daily shopping was required; washing had to be done by hand and hung up

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