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Women, Social Leadership, and the Second World WarContinuities of Class$

James Hinton

Print publication date: 2002

Print ISBN-13: 9780199243297

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2010

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199243297.001.0001

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Our Towns

Our Towns

(p.177) 9 Our Towns
Women, Social Leadership, and the Second World War

James Hinton (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter returns to the wider female associational world, examining attempts to consolidate women's organizations around a non-partisan reformist agenda which reflected their conviction that, however extensively the state might or indeed should intervene, ongoing social problems would continue to provide fertile soil for middle-class social leadership. It examines the Women's Group on Public Welfare and its 1943 study of urban poverty, Our Towns; the local co-ordination of the women's movement through Standing Conferences of Women's Organisations; the role of the Townswomen's Guilds and the Soroptimists in these developments; and the limited wartime revival of feminism and efforts to promote independent women candidates in local elections. The ambition and self-assertiveness of this non-partisan feminine reformism was limited both by the inability of women to take on the male-dominated power of the political parties, and by the growing marginalization of philanthropic forms of authority as social work became increasingly professionalized in the welfare state.

Keywords:   Second World War, voluntary work, social leadership, Britain, Women's Group on Public Welfare, Soroptimists, Townswomen's Guilds, feminism

Oh Lord, thought Mrs Miniver… I'm sick and tired of being offered nothing but that same old choice. Left wing… Right wing… it's so limited; why doesn't it ever occur to any of them that what one is really longing for is the wishbone?1

Our discussion of the dynamics of urban social leadership has so far focused on WVS colonization of the established women's movement. WVS, however, was not the only innovation of the war years, which also saw both a limited revival of feminist campaigning and, more importantly, the establishment of a new co-ordinating body, the Women's Group on Public Welfare (WGPW), which did much to consolidate a broad non-partisan current of social engagement among middle-class women. In the later 1940s the WGPW was to become the major focus of opposition to the post-war continuation of WVS. The bitterness of that conflict, examined in detail in Chapter 11, should not obscure the affinities between the two organizations: indeed it was the degree to which their objectives overlapped that provided the occasion for conflict. Even while they denied the right of the upstart WVS to exist at all, leaders of the WGPW were fostering among middle-class women precisely that commitment to non-partisan engagement with social issues that, in the event, served to sustain Lady Reading's creation.

The WGPW originated from a meeting, convened by the National Council of Social Service in November 1939 (at the instigation of the WI and Town-swomen's Guilds), to discuss ‘the challenge to the civic conscience’ caused by evacuation.2 An enquiry into slum conditions was launched immediately, but it was not until the following June that the provisional executive, which had at one point considered adding ‘middle class distress in town and country’ to the Group's agenda, agreed on a longer-term aim for the new organization: ‘to bring the experience of its constituent organisations to bear on questions of public welfare, more especially those affecting women and children’.3 The (p.178) NCSS contributed most of the Women's Group's running expenses, and seconded its chief woman officer, Miss Letty Harford, to work more or less full-time for the Group.4 The Women's Group established itself as the recognized co-ordinating body for what the Townswomen's Guild described as ‘all the women's organisations of repute’.5 By the end of the war forty-six national organizations had affiliated, including the women's sections of the mainstream political parties.6 Non-partisanship was symbolized by the cooperation between the chair and vice-chair, respectively Margaret Bondfield,7 who had been the first woman Cabinet Minister in the Labour Government of 1929-31, and Priscilla Norman, wife of the Governor of the Bank of England widely held responsible for the fall of that Government.

Although the establishment of the WGPW probably owed something to the desire of the WI and NUTG to defend their spheres of operation against the burgeoning activity of WVS, Lady Reading did not initially view the new organization as a threat.8 Aware that the response of some of her more imaginative organizers to the horrors exposed by evacuation was to look for ambitious schemes of social reconstruction, she welcomed the Women's Group as a place where such initiatives could be pursued without dragging WVS into politically charged territory. Like Mrs Miniver, who believed that ‘some of us are more suited by nature to be Palliators, or Patchers, and others to be Rebuilders’,9 Lady Reading insisted that the practical amelioration of suffering offered by WVS should not be mixed up with discussion of (p.179) large-scale social reform. The practical ladies of WVS had quite enough to do sorting out immediate problems; those of a more speculative cast of mind could be referred to the WGPW.10

The best-known initiative taken by the WGPW was the publication, in 1943, of a study of the urban poverty revealed by evacuation, Our Towns. A Close-Up. This text has provoked a good deal of recent debate, but its ambiguities are difficult to unravel without attention to the main intended audience—the leaders of middle-class women's organizations in Britain's towns. The WGPW served these women not only by providing a non-partisan social reformism tailored to their concerns, but also by offering through local Standing Committees of Women's Organisations (SCWOs), established from 1943, an institutional framework within which urban social leaders could co-ordinate their activity and enhance their influence. Analysis of SCWO activity throws particular light on two aspects of urban social leadership in the period: tensions between professional women and organized housewives, and (despite Margaret Bondfield) the continuing hostility of Labour women to the middle-class organizations in general.


The war years saw a modest revival of feminism, and some diminution of the clash between equal rights and maternalist demands which had been so debilitating for feminism between the wars. The major equal rights agitation was provoked by the flagrantly discriminatory provisions of the scheme introduced to compensate civilian victims of bombing. Fearing that any concession would open the floodgates to disruptive pressures for equal pay in industry, the Government held out against equal compensation for over three years until it was finally forced to concede by the threat of a backbench revolt in April 1943. The demand had overwhelming public support and the agitation did much to foster co-operation among women's organizations at local level.11 As Government ministers had feared, the concession put wind in the sails of the equal pay campaign leading in 1944 to a further backbench revolt over Government opposition to equal pay for teachers which was only quashed by resignation threats from both Bevin and Churchill.12

(p.180) Some feminists sought to raise more ambitious demands. Like the First World War socialists who had demanded the ‘conscription of riches’ as a quid pro quo for military conscription, Second World War feminists seized on the conscription of women as an opportunity to press for comprehensive equal rights legislation. In September 1943 the Women's Publicity Planning Association—the main wartime co-ordinating group for equal rights activity—launched what was intended as a mass campaign for a ‘blanket’ bill designed to outlaw all forms of sex discrimination. But whereas the demand for the ‘conscription of riches’ had opened the way for Labour's 1918 unification under the banner of socialism, the blanket bill campaign ran rapidly into the sands. The comprehensive nature of the bill not only revived an old bone of contention with Labour women over existing legislation protecting women workers, it was also dismissed by most middle-class women's organizations, including some of the more feminist ones, as ‘wholly impractical’. The absence of any single issue with the simplicity of the equal compensation demand inhibited ongoing feminist mobilization, as did the untimely death in August 1944 of the moving spirit of the blanket bill campaign, Dorothy Evans.13

Despite the success of the equal compensation campaign women's rights remained a divisive issue. Caroline Haslett, the founder of the Electrical Association of Women who combined unflagging activism in the women's movement with insider status as a trusted Whitehall adviser, urged women ‘to adopt the attitude of assuming our responsibilities rather than asking for our rights’. It was largely in this spirit that the leaders of the main women's organizations sought to enhance their members' influence. Although most of the organizations involved in the WGPW supported equal compensation and equal pay, feminist campaigning was less central to their members' strategies of empowerment than the exercise of their skills as social leaders. Taking responsibility, as Haslett argued, meant constructively giving ‘to the Community any gifts or talents that [we] possess’ rather than attempting to exploit the war emergency to wring concessions on women's rights.14 For (p.181) most publicly active women in mid-twentieth-century Britain, ‘feminism’ remained a deeply problematic concept. They sought empowerment less by demanding their rights as women than by embracing their responsibility as social leaders.


Our Towns has been widely discussed by historians as a window into the middle-class female soul in the founding years of the welfare state. Originating in a request from the WI for an examination of the ‘customs and habits of a minority of town-dwellers’15 which the 1939 evacuation had revealed so shockingly to their members, the study presented detailed evidence of the extent and causes among the urban poor of body lice, skin diseases, unsanitary habits, dirtiness of clothes and bodies, inadequate spending, feeding and sleeping habits, and juvenile delinquency. The report was produced by ‘a small group of professional working women, all familiar at first hand with the conditions of poverty’, supplemented by interviews with a further twenty-seven teachers, health and social workers, and public officials, all but two of them women.16 The discussion of ‘bad habits’, particularly those involving excretion and menstruation, was frank and the report required of its readers ‘stout stomachs and an appetite for facts, including… unpleasant’ ones.17 The authors of Our Towns were in no doubt that, whatever cultural misperceptions might also be involved, the accusations levelled by hostesses against the personal habits of a significant minority of evacuees were fully justified.18 Moreover, much of the explanation of this behaviour was framed in a late-Victorian language of the ‘residuum’:

the ‘submerged tenth’ described by Charles Booth still exists in our towns like a hidden sore, poor, dirty, and crude in its habits … Within this group are the ‘problem families’, always on the edge of pauperism and crime, riddled with mental and physical defects, in and out of the Courts for child neglect, a menace to the community, of which the gravity is out of all proportion to their numbers.19

Not surprisingly some historians have seen Our Towns as evidence of the prevalence of a reactionary victim-blaming analysis of poverty centred on notions of the ‘slum mind’ and the ‘problem family’.20 In line with this (p.182) diagnosis the report laid heavy emphasis on the potential role of nursery schools—‘the only agency capable of cutting the slum mind off at the root’—in breaking the inter-generational transmission of a culture of poverty by rescuing young children from the influence of their degraded mothers.21 Other historians, by contrast, have seen the report as ‘breathtakingly radical’, indicating an ‘astonishing’ turn-round in middle-class attitudes during the early war years from blaming the bad personal habits of evacuees to blaming the urban environmental conditions that produced them.22 The report analysed in detail and with considerable sympathy for the slum mother the obstacles to ‘good home-making’ created by overcrowding, inadequate sanitation and water supplies, poor facilities for cooking and food-storage; and it demanded a raft of reforms including family allowances, minimum wages, a national health service, long-term controls on the price and distribution of basic foodstuffs, and serious curbs on the freedom of landlords or other commercial interests to exploit working-class needs.23 The most extensive study of Our Towns so far published stresses its ambiguity, while warning that it may be unhelpful to view it through ‘anachronistic’ categories of ‘reactionary’ and ‘radical’.24

In fact the authors of the report were well aware of the tensions they were negotiating between cultural and environmental explanations of poverty. They warned readers not to neglect the economic causes of poverty just because defects of individual character could also be shown to be at work. At the same time they were insistent that transforming the behaviour of poor people was an educational as much an environmental challenge.25 This belief may have reflected, in part, the authors' own claim to positions of social leadership. The purpose of the Women's Group was ‘to bring the experience of its constituent organisations to bear on questions of public welfare’, and this was an experience not just of observing problems but also of solving them. A remark in the report about local councillors ‘dreary with complacency’ reflects the frustrations often experienced by women's organizations campaigning for vigorous local action on health, housing, or the opening of nursery schools.26 Tackling the slum mind through the class-bridging initiatives of women visitors bringing support and enlightenment to working-class (p.183) mothers had long been central to middle-class notions of feminine social responsibility.27 In this tradition Our Towns offered its readers an analysis of poverty which gave them a role, not only in demanding action by the state, but as agents of reform in their own right whether as professional social workers or in voluntary social service. If evacuation reminded some well-to-do people of their obligations towards the poor, this may well have done more to reinforce traditional patterns of social leadership than to lay the basis for a genuinely egalitarian transcendence of class difference.

At the heart of the analysis offered by Our Towns is nostalgia for a communal solidarity characterized by the ‘juxtaposition of the social classes’ and ‘the [benign] influence of tradition’.28 The old order, assumed to be alive and well in rural areas, had long since disappeared from the towns: ‘With their great masses of people, largely segregated according to social class, they have destroyed the feudal conceptions of rights and duties without progressing to a society that is democratically integrated.’29 At its most Utopian, ‘democratic integration’ would involve massive social engineering designed to put an end to both the geographical and educational dimensions of class segregation. But while the language is modern—‘rapid transition to a more equal and democratic structure of society’—the central aspiration replays Victorian notions of urban squirearchy: ‘such a policy would humanise the comfortable [and] acquaint them with the incredible virtues and kindliness of the working class’. While fantasizing about how ‘wholesome’ it would be to have ‘less “social work” by the conscientious well-to-do in regions remote from their homes, and much more neighbourly visiting of people in the next street born of genuine common interests’, there is no suggestion that such ‘class mingling’ would abolish class difference. Rather, the Utopia dreamed of for ‘our’ towns was one in which human sympathy would transcend such difference, enabling ‘us’ to exercise social leadership as ‘naturally’ as did our country cousins.30 Advocacy of class mixing was not at all unusual in discussion of post-war reconstruction. Even left-wing Labour Party leaders spoke of the need ‘to try and recapture the glory of some of the past English villages… where the doctor could reside benignly with his patients in the same street’.31 But this convergence says more about (p.184) the sentimentality of some socialists—Nye Bevan in this case—than it does about the radicalism of the Women's Group.


Speaking at the founding meeting of the Liverpool Women's Organisations Committee in November 1939, Miss Foulkes, a delegate from the Soroptimists, declared her conviction that the key to progress was ‘the formation of women's organisations into one body so that the mothers would be educated to a sense of citizenship’.32 The problems of middle-class spinsters offering education to working-class mothers had long been acknowledged in the women's movement, and were noted in Our Towns, which was itself produced almost entirely by women who had chosen careers over marriage.33 Miss Foulkes, however, may also have been referring to the education in citizenship of middle-class housewives by their more educated and outgoing sisters. By 1943, when Our Towns was published, the example of local coordination set by Liverpool had been taken up in many other places, and the WGPW promoted the book as an agenda for action by local co-ordinating groups which were themselves usually led by professional women.34 The dynamics of female social leadership in ‘our towns’ tended to place upon childless professional women the responsibility for fostering the virtues of citizenship not only among working-class mothers but also among their married sisters in the middle class.

Professional women were mainly responsible for the establishment of local Standing Conferences of Women's Organisations (SCWOs), the most sustained attempt in the 1940s to co-ordinate action by women's organizations at local level. Inspired by the success of the campaign for equal compensation, the Soroptimists decided in July 1942 to encourage the formation of what they called ‘Group Action Councils’ at local level.35 Caroline Haslett urged professional women to adopt ‘a statesmanlike attitude’, looking beyond their own self-interested concerns to make links with the far larger world of housewives and engage with issues ‘that concern the (p.185) whole mechanism of the women's world’.36 Since the outbreak of war a number of other towns had followed the example of Liverpool where women's organizations meeting under the auspices of the influential local Council of Social Service in November 1939 had resolved to work together ‘to bring about urgent social reforms that were of particular concern to women’.37 In Leicester, co-operation in the equal compensation campaign led to the establishment of a Co-ordination Committee of Women's Organizations in May 1942.38 The Soroptimists' initiative in July 1942 met with an enthusiastic response and within months thirty local Group Action Councils had been formed.39

This sudden upsurge of local co-ordination caused alarm among the parent bodies of some of the organizations concerned. The National Council of Women was worried that the new Group Action Councils would eventually spawn a new national organization rivalling its own (disputed) claims to speak for the women's organizations as a whole. Moreover it had always seen local co-ordination as one of its own functions. In some towns the new initiative was indignantly attacked as an attempt to usurp the functions of the NCW; in others the Group Action Council was seen to be succeeding where the NCW had failed.40 The Soroptimists' attempted to be more inclusive than the NCW by insisting that the new Councils would not themselves become policy-making bodies but would have a purely consultative role: any resulting activity would be undertaken by constituent organisations acting, if they chose to do so at all, in their own names. Organizations like the Inner Wheel or the Townswomen's Guilds would, it was hoped, feel free to participate without committing themselves to joining in activities which might compromise their own non-political stances. Gertrude Horton, the (p.186) Townswomen's national secretary, pointed out that the title adopted by the Soroptimists appeared to belie their purely consultative intentions—‘the name “action” is just what we can't agree to’—and the Soroptimists found themselves explaining, somewhat absurdly, that ‘a Group Action Council… [must] not act as a Group’.41

Faced with these difficulties, the Soroptimists asked the WGPW to take on the role of guiding the development of the Councils in a way acceptable to all the women's organizations.42 A new model constitution was negotiated which took full account of the Townswomen's anxieties by dropping the offending name in favour of the more neutral ‘Standing Conference of Women's Organisations’; tightening up the provisions for preventing the groups taking on ‘propagandist’ functions; and incorporating as their leading aim the Townswomen's own commitment to the provision of a ‘common meeting ground.’43 At the same time the Women's Group established a subcommittee briefed to act as an ‘advisory headquarters’ to watch over the development of the new local bodies. Chaired by Lady Norman, this committee represented the Soroptimists and the Federation of Business and Professional Women (which had been associated with the Soroptimist initiative from the outset), the Townswomen, the National Council of Women, the Standing Joint Committee of Working Women's Organisations (of whose involvement more later), and the Young Women's Christian Association.44

The resulting structure—local co-ordinating bodies pledged not to take action in their own name and policed by a national committee on which they had no direct representation—was a curious one.45 By the time the new arrangements were in place, in March 1943, Group Action Councils had been formed in fifty-one towns, mainly on Soroptimist initiative, and some of the women involved were indignant that their national leaders had handed authority to the WGPW without first consulting them. They were particularly resentful of a ban on SCWOs taking up national issues directly, rather than through the national headquarters of their constituent organizations.46 After the war pressure from below forced the Women's Group to (p.187) allow biennial national joint conferences of SCWOs to elect half the membership of the advisory committee.47 But the Group held the line against pressures—‘latent since the beginning’—to turn the SCWOs into the nucleus of a new national organization, insisting that any move in this direction would destroy the Standing Conferences by upsetting the delicate balance between facilitating local co-operation while respecting the autonomy of established organizations.48 This was not enough to satisfy the National Council of Women, which never reconciled itself to the existence of a rival co-ordinating organization, and eventually withdrew in 1947.49 Despite this the device of WGPW tutelage served its purpose. By the summer of 1944 all but four of the fifty-one Group Action Councils in existence at the launch of the WGPW scheme had signed up, together with a further twenty-five new local groups. The movement peaked with over 100 affiliates during 1947, most of them in the North and Midlands rather than in Southern England. Numbers fell in the late 1940s, to seventy-six by 1951, but they picked up again during the 1950s.50

The activities of local SCWOs reflected the common concerns of its constituent members. The Soroptimists' draft constitution had given pride of place to the promotion of ‘the economic interests of women’, and in Coventry, for example, the group devoted much of its energies to a scheme to provide suitable housing for single professional women.51 But Coventry had rather a narrow group, very much dominated by the professional women's organizations, and such sectional concerns were not normally seen as appropriate business for a Standing Conference.52 After the war, when queues and food shortages became a subject of public agitation, some Standing Conferences found themselves drawn in, and in a number of areas branches of the militant British Housewives' League were accepted as affiliates.53 In Coventry and Leicester the SCWOs took up equal pay campaigning (p.188) after the war.54 Several Lancashire Conferences were supportive of campaigning by the feminist Married Women's Association for legal protection of married women's savings.55 The promotion of women's ‘economic interests’ was not, however, the main concern of the Standing Conferences: indeed the phrase itself had been omitted from the WGPW's model constitution under pressure from the Townswomen's secretary, Gertrude Horton. In October 1943, the Townswoman, commenting on the equal pay campaign, reminded members that the Guilds ‘were not prepared to associate themselves with a feminist movement’; that up to half the membership would not consider itself feminist; and that the principle of equal pay could not be taken as an article of faith in the movement.56

The WGPW constitution stressed, not feminist self-assertion, but the pursuit of ‘matters of interest to the women's organisations and to the city, town or district’ as the prime function of the SCWOs.57 Most groups undertook some voluntary service of their own. In Halifax, for example, the SCWO opened and staffed its own youth club, and raised the extraordinary sum of £4,500 from a market fair held in aid of the local hospital, on whose board they were campaigning to secure women's representation.58 A favourite cause was catering for young people's (alcohol-free) leisure by setting up evening cafes or extending the opening hours of British Restaurants with voluntary labour provided by women's organizations.59 The moral agenda underlying such activity was apparent in discussions of juvenile delinquency, the sexual behaviour of young girls, and—the single most common campaigning issue taken up by SCWOs during the war—the appointment of women police.60 SCWOs conducted surveys of local needs and (p.189) lobbied local authorities on a host of issues, including housing, transport, the provision of maternity accommodation and home helps, and the chronic shortage of public lavatories for women.61


The Soroptimists had seen one of the main functions of Group Action Councils as pressing for the appointment of women to public bodies, thereby ‘opening the door to full service in local affairs and… training members for leadership’.62 Although the WGPW constitution made no mention of this objective, pressing for women to be co-opted to council committees nevertheless became a primary function of the SCWOs: as Irene Ward, Tory MP and chairman of the Northumberland Standing Conference, remarked: ‘even the most ardent anti-feminist can hardly deny that women have a right to be associated with housing policy.’63 Women had long been co-opted onto Maternity and Child Committees, and many SCWOs campaigned to extend this practice, especially to housing, education, and reconstruction committees.64 The Halifax Conference was exemplary in this respect, setting up a panel of women, nominated by their respective organizations, suitable for appointment to council committees, hospital boards, or the magistracy.65 Co-option was, however, a second best. The refusal of the Halifax town council to co-opt women to its housing committee was defended by the town's leading Conservative woman (herself an alderman) on democratic grounds, and she urged women's organizations to put pressure on the political parties to select women candidates.66 The SCWO was in fact already doing this, and as the November 1945 local elections approached constituent organizations renewed the pressure.67 In September 1945 they (p.190) went further, inviting two of their members to stand as independents. Both women were Liberals and one of them, a married businesswoman who ran a farm as a hobby and a past president of the local Soroptimists, accepted the invitation. This may have been a manoeuvre designed to force the dominant party on the Council to adopt women candidates. If so it succeeded: within two weeks the Liberals had adopted her as their own candidate. The SCWO treasurer, an unmarried cashier who believed that men and women should have equal representation on all public bodies, also stood as an independent, sponsored by the Business and Professional Women. Money was collected for both candidates at SCWO meetings, and the treasurer used the meetings to recruit canvassers.68 The SCWO also paid for an advertisement in the local paper urging women to vote for women candidates ‘as far as their consciences allowed if two candidates were standing for one ward’. Both women were elected, but the SCWO's electoral intervention thoroughly upset the Labour Party, and the Liberals objected to the advertisement. The Conservatives, however, drew a different conclusion, asking the SCWO to suggest a suitable candidate to stand for them in a forthcoming by-election. Although they had come close to endorsing independent candidates in 1945, the Halifax SCWO drew back from any long-term involvement in electoral politics, resolving in January 1946 that names of suitable council candidates submitted for its panel would in future be forwarded to the appropriate political party.69

Halifax was not alone in confronting the issue of independent candidates. One of the first actions of the Group Action Council in Leamington Spa when it was set up at the end of 1943 had been to nominate (successfully) their own president for a vacant council position. Alerted by an anxious Labour Party, Harford warned the Leamington group against the danger of ‘side-tracking the democratic methods of the country on the one hand, and of giving the impression of extreme feminism on the other’. The Leamington secretary was quick to point out that they had no such intentions and that they had already secured a council place for a second of their members, the wife of a leading local industrialist, as the nominee of the Conservative Party.70 The Leamington action had been a product of the wartime political truce and in 1945 there appears to have been no move to put up independent candidates. SCWO leaders in nearby Coventry did discuss the possibility, but ‘came to the conclusion that independent women candidates would (p.191) stand very little chance of being elected, and that at the present time women must put up as representatives of a party’.71 In May 1945 the SCWO leader in Grimsby reported an anti-party mood—‘we have several excellent women, who are prepared to stand as independent candidates, but will not join a political party’—but she was clearly asking the WGPW for backing in resisting this pressure.72 Darlington had also considered the possibility of putting up their own candidate in 1945 but decided instead to launch a Women's Municipal Campaign to mobilize support for any women candidates regardless of party.73 In Portsmouth, where the Women's Citizen's Association carried out many of the functions elsewhere performed by the SCWO, the chairman's desire for the organization to sponsor an independent candidate was frustrated by the political realism of her chosen candidate who reported in September 1945 that, while she would love to stand as an independent, her ‘enquiries all over the City from people in all walks of life’ made it clear that ‘the coming elections were expected to evoke violent party feelings and that the times might not be propitious for candidates without a strong organisation behind them’.74 This evidence suggests that wherever independent electoral intervention was discussed it was rejected—with the interesting exception of the Halifax Business and Professional Women. Most Standing Conferences contented themselves with pressing the parties to adopt women candidates and convening meetings at which all the women candidates could be quizzed on policy issues, a practice recommended by the Townswomen.75 There was a significant strand of anti-party feeling in English political culture—aptly summed up in Mrs Miniver's Utopian slogan: ‘neither right-wing… nor left-wing… but the wish-bone’—and this had been apparent in opinion polls during the war.76 The major outlet for the non-partisan sentiments of middle-class women, however, was in the voluntary work, campaigning and lobbying undertaken by women's organizations, and the leaders of these organizations were realistic about the difficulties of carrying non-partisanship into the electoral arena. In May 1945 Letty Harford warned the Grimsby SCWO that ‘were the (p.192) representatives of the different organisations to back an independent woman candidate, it would lead to misunderstanding and people would think you were trying to start “a woman's party”.’77 However much some might feel themselves to be, in Patricia Hollis' words, ‘tacit members of a hidden women's party', these women knew that when it came to electoral politics discretion was the better part of wisdom.78


The Standing Conferences mainly represented middle-class women. The WGPW, keen to involve working-class organizations, brought the SJC onto the advisory committee from the outset, and the SJC representative expressed the hope that ‘the reluctance of trade union and co-operative members would be gradually overcome’.79 But the Labour women were in fact much more interested in restraining the SCWOs from getting involved in municipal elections than they were in encouraging active participation by their members: ‘the SJC has taken the position’, Mary Sutherland explained in 1945, ‘that we would offer no objection to local branches of our organisations participating in the Standing Conferences, while of course we would not urge them to do so’.80 The ‘of course’ testifies eloquently to the abiding reluctance of Labour women to involve themselves in what would necessarily be a subordinate position in the middle-class women's world.

Many SCWOs had no representation at all from working-class organizations. This was not for want of trying. In Leicester, where repeated invitations to the working-class organizations had been refused, the SCWO decided in 1948 to abandon attempts to persuade them to affiliate in favour of seeking co-operation in organizing specific undertakings, such as the impressive campaign run by the SCWO to persuade women to return to factory jobs. A year later, however, they were again trying to talk the WCG and the Labour Party into affiliating. Eventually this persistent pressure paid off when the WCG decided to join. The Labour Party, however, remained aloof.81 This was a common pattern, with the Co-operative Guilds being (p.193) rather more inclined to join than the Labour Party Women's Sections.82 In a few areas Labour women were fully represented, but they seldom, if ever, played a leading role.83 In Halifax the Labour Party was represented from the outset and Mrs Oxley, later to be Labour's first woman councillor in Halifax, played an active part in SCWO proceedings.84 Nevertheless their sense of unease as participants in this middle-class public world was revealed when the Women's Section decided not to take part in the Conference's major fund-raising effort—a market fair—‘in view of the fact that we can't [even] supply a stall for our own At Homes.’85 Nor were they interested in the SCWO's other big project—the co-ordination of nominations for co-option to council committees and other public bodies, seeing this as strictly a Party matter. Following the SCWO's interventions in the local elections in November 1945, the Labour Women decided to withdraw altogether, complaining that, while they had been keen to help the organization to do ‘a useful service in awakening civic consciousness and rousing a keen interest in the problems of the day’, they had not joined in order:

to become part of a purely feminist organisation, which is a reactionary not a progressive outlook… [nor] to help to make the SCWO into a political machine … We cannot remain affiliated to an organisation which poses as being non-political and then enters into the political arena.

The idea that women candidates should be supported irrespective of party was anathema to the Labour women, and the notion that there could be genuine independents on local councils simply revealed ‘a complete lack of knowledge in [sic] the working of … Local Government machinery’.86 For Labour women whose access to local power depended overwhelmingly on (p.194) party politics, and who were acutely aware of ways in which anti-socialists had long hidden their party affiliations behind a ‘non-political’ label, the desire of established middle-class social leaders to consolidate female influence across party boundaries could only appear as a deliberate attempt to sabotage Labour's advance.87


Soroptimists had hoped that their Group Action Councils would serve as a meeting point for ‘women from every type of organisation and from every walk of life…’ and Margaret Bondfield described the SCWOs as places where ‘the representatives of the business and professional women's club will have discussions … with the trade union members or the housewife from a church meeting or a women's guild’.88 If the trade unionists were mainly notable by their absence, the middle-class housewives, though present, tended to take a back seat, and leadership remained largely with the professional women.89 Dora Warner, a leading Soroptomist who ran the Leicester group and who took over the chairmanship of the WGPW advisory committee from Lady Norman in 1948, complained that professional women had been left to shoulder the burden because other organizations were jealous of the potential influence of the Standing Conferences.90 While this may well have been true of working-class organizations, it was unfair as a criticism of the Townswomen, who did what they could to persuade their members to take the initiative: ‘why leave it to one or two other organisations [i.e. the professional women], to put the wheels in motion.’91 But the assumptions that Horton and Franklin themselves made about the leadership capacities of their own members should have enabled them to answer this question. Despite the safeguards she had written into the model constitution, Horton remained vigilant in seeking to prevent the innocent enthusiasm of inexperienced Guildswomen being exploited by sinister forces to inveigle them into ‘propagandist’ activity. In July 1943 the WGPW Executive drew up a (p.195) blacklist of ‘mushroom organisations’ with which it resolved to have no dealings. Apart from one militantly pro-family group, the Council of Seven Beliefs, these were all ‘extreme’ feminist organizations, including Women for Westminster and Dorothy Evans' Women's Publicity and Planning Association.92 Horton urged Harford to impress on the Soroptimists and the Federation of Business and Professional Women—‘societies which have a reputation of being composed of sensible women’—the danger of their ‘really irresponsible behaviour’ in allowing their own local groups to co-operate with ‘mushroom organisations’.93 She appeared unaware that the internal structures of these two organizations would have made it quite impossible for their national leaders to impose such proscriptions on local activity, even if they had wished to do so.94 This defensive paranoia was nicely matched by the SJC which believed that the Communist-inspired Women's Parliament needed watching as least as carefully as did Dorothy Evans. The Communist Party official responsible for the Women's Parliament found the leaders of the middle-class women's organizations much less worried about working with Communists than were their working-class counterparts.95 Mrs Whyatt, representing the Women's Co-operative Guilds on the SCWO sub-committee, confessed that one of the main reasons why the SJC had agreed to participate was to alert middle-class organizations to the dangers represented by the Women's Parliaments, and Harford looked to the Labour women to expound these dangers whenever the occasion arose.96 A curious alliance thus emerged between the representatives of middle-class and working-class housewives against the ‘irresponsibility’ of professional women in consorting freely with feminist or communist subversives. It was an alliance which spoke more of the nervousness of the housewives' leaders than the naivety of the professional women. Despite Horton and Whyatt, the advisory committee (p.196) was inclined to believe that in dealing with extremists it was usually better to co-opt than to exclude: ‘such organisations will probably modify their outlook by association with the more established organisations’.97 The Birmingham Standing Conference, for example, was advised to admit Communist women on the grounds that ‘very often [they] have very little idea how much is being done by voluntary organisations, nor how effective is their work, and by joining in a Standing Conference they will learn much’.98 Whether or not this belief in the co-optability of Communists was justified, it certainly revealed a spirit of confident social leadership among some of the established women's organizations that was sadly lacking in the obsessive attempts of leaders of both Labour women and the Townswomen's Guilds to close down potential avenues of subversion. Given her fears about the political inexperience of her members, Horton should not have been surprised that, in general, they left the initiative to more confident and better-educated professional women. And those who did not hang back represented a potential threat to the style of leadership of the NUTG's own founders. Franklin and Horton's nemesis, the Bristol doctor's wife Mary Courtney, had acquired the experience necessary for her role in bringing them down partly by her chairmanship of the local Standing Conference.99

The developments charted in this chapter owed more to the initiative of business and professional women than to those leisured housewives whose energies WVS was primarily designed to channel. Among both groups of women, however, Mrs Miniver's longing for ‘the wishbone’ of non-partisanship was widely shared. In the realm of electoral politics such aspirations were generally acknowledged to be Utopian, if only because they were rejected by Labour women who saw them as a hypocritical disguise for the promotion of anti-socialist politics. The dependency of Labour women on the ballot box for challenging middle-class social leadership made them understandably sceptical about the reality of non-partisanship in the associational life of middle-class women. The rhetoric of nation before party, however, addressed a genuine duality in the attitudes of many middle-class women, including Conservative Party members, and that is one reason why Lady Reading was able to win her battle to revive WVS after the war. This institutional continuity, however, disguised a major shift in the weight and function of her organization. The post-war WVS never again functioned as (p.197) an instrument of middle-class social leadership in the way it had done during the war. The limits to the WVS revival were set, not so much by the hostility of Labour women or of the established middle-class women's organization, but by the declining social power of middle-class housewives in a post-war order in which voluntary service was increasingly subordinated to paid professionals employed by statutory authorities. The next chapter examines this process, with particular reference to the post-war establishment of local Home Help services, a process in which WVS played a pioneering, but ultimately rather a demoralizing, role. In the realm of personal social services, just as in the associational world discussed above, the middle-aged housewives who had gloried in their wartime status as the backbone of Britain increasingly found themselves being marginalized by their younger and better educated professional sisters.


(1) Jan Struthers, Mrs Miniver (London, 1989), 101.

(2) An additional challenge to the established women's groups—the challenge represented by WVS—may also have been instrumental in the establishment of the WGPW. Gertrude Horton remarked to the NUTG Executive in April 1940 that the original purpose of the WGPW had been ‘to safeguard those organizations of a permanent nature that might be affected by the evacuation of adults’. NUTG Executive, Minutes, 23 Apr. 1940.

(3) Women's Problems Arising from Evacuation, Minutes, 30 Nov. 1939, 17, 16 May 1940, 2 July 1940, WF AI.

(4) WGPW, Minutes, 19 Oct. 1942, WF A14; A. F. C. Bourdillon (ed.), Voluntary Social Services. Their Place in the Modern State (London, 1945), 190. Before joining NCSS head office Harford had worked for many years in Chesterfield where co-operation between the voluntary sector and the local authority was particularly well developed between the wars. Margoret Brasnett, Voluntary Social Action. A History of the National Council of Social Service, 1919–1969 (London, 1969), 164; ‘Memorandum on Urban Work’, Aug. 1940, Nottinghamshire RO MS 396/31.

(5) Townswoman (Apr. 1944), 106, May 1943, 114. Affiliates included all the main generalist women's organizations (WI, NUTG, BFBPW, Soroptimists, NCW, Women Citizens, WCG, SJC), a wide range of more specialist groupings (EAW, Women's Gas Council, Toe H, British Legion, Friends Service League, Personal Service Group, British Association of Residential Settlements, Educational Settlements Association, British Institute of Adult Education, National Council for Maternity and Child Welfare, National Society of Children's Nurseries, Nursery Schools Association, Mental Health Emergency Committee), and various professional organizations (College of Midwives, Royal College of Nursing, Hospital Almoners Association, Women's Public Health Officers Association, National Union of Teachers, Association of Teachers of Domestic Subjects, British Federation of Social Workers).

(6) Report of National Women's Advisory Committee to the TUC, 1945–6, 13, TUC 292 66/3.

(7) It is unlikely that Bondfield's presence did much to reconcile Labour women to the middle-class organizations. Her reputation in Labour circles never recovered from her unimpressive performance as Minister of Labour in MacDonald's government (J. M. Bellamy and J. Saville, Dictionary of Labour Biography, ii (London, 1974), 39–44).

(8) NUTG Executive Committee, Minutes, 23 Apr. 1940. WVS was represented from the outset on the WGPW Executive by its general secretary. Norman also played a leading role in the early years of WVS, but resigned her WVS vice-chairmanship in January 1941.

(9) Struther, Mrs Miniver, 144–5.

(10) Dart to Reading, 10 Nov. 1939; Reading to Dart, 16 Nov. 1939; Smieton to Dart, 20 Nov. 1939; Huxley to Dart, 23 Nov. 1939 WRVS, R10 Northwest.

(11) BIPO Poll, Oct. 1941: 84% approved; 11% disapproved. H. L. Smith, ‘The Problem of Equal Pay for Equal Work in Great Britain During World War Two’, Journal of Modern History, 53 (1981), 652, 655, 661–3; Olive Banks, The Politics of British Feminism, 1918–1970 (Aldershot, 1993), 100–1; Brooks, Women at Westminster, 136–9; Alison Oram, ‘“Bombs don't Discriminate!” Women's Political Activism in the Second World War’, in C. Gledhill and G. Swanson (eds.), Nationalising Femininity, Culture, Sexuality and British Cinema in the Second World War (Manchester, 1996), 55–8; Labour Woman (Jan. 1941); ‘Democracy in Action’, International Women's News (May 1943).

(12) Smith, ‘Equal Pay’, 665–9.

(13) International Women's News (Sept. 1943; July 1944); Oram, ‘Bombs don't Discriminate!’, 60–3; Penny Summerfield, ‘The Effect of War on the Status of Women’, in H. L. Smith (ed.), War and Social Change. British Society in the Second World War (Manchester, 1986), 224–5.

(14) Electrical Association of Women, Nottingham Branch, Minutes, 24 Mar. 1943, Nottinghamshire RO, DD 13 57\I\4\I. According to Kathleen Halpin, Haslett was seen by other leading women at the time as having been co-opted into the Whitehall establishment: ‘more man's woman than a woman’ (Brian Harrison interview with Halpin, 16 Mar. 1977, Fawcett Library). Born into the respectable working class, Haslett trained as an electrical engineer and founded the EAW in 1924. As Chairman of the BFBPW she helped to form the Woman Power Committee in 1940 to protect women's interests during the war, and was appointed to the Ministry of Labour's Women's Consultative Committee. Walter Citrine, the TUC General Secretary, remembered her as a woman who, though ‘never an ardent feminist’ (in fact she had been a militant suffragette before 1914) ‘had never swerved from her high purpose of raising the social status of women’ (Dictionary of National Biography (1951–60)). From 1947 until her death in 1957 she was the only female member of the Central Electricity Authority.

(15) Women's Group for Public Welfare, Our Towns: A Close-Up: A Study Made in 1939–1942 with Certain Recommendations by the Hygiene Committee of the Women's Group on Public Welfare (London, 1943), p. ix.

(16) Ibid., pp. viii, xi, 114.

(17) Ibid., p. xi.

(18) Ibid., pp. xvi, 3, 8, 30, 40.

(19) Ibid., p. xiii.

(20) J. Macnicol, ‘The Evacuation of Schoolchildren’, in Smith, War and Social Change, 24; Elizabeth Wilson, Women and the Welfare State (London, 1977), 138–9.

(21) WGPW, Our Towns, 105.

(22) Bob Holman, The Evacuation: A Very British Revolution (Oxford, 1995), 143, 144, 146. John Welshman analyses the ambiguity of the report, arguing that ‘reactionary motives’ led to ‘surprising progressive conclusions’: Welshman, ‘Evacuation and Social Policy During World War Two: Myth and Reality’, Twentieth Century British History, 9 (1998), 39.

(23) WGPW, Our Towns, pp. xviii, 43, 45 103–6.

(24) Welshman, ‘Evacuation, Hygiene and Social Policy: The Our Towns Reports of 1943’, Historical Journal, 42 (1999), 805, 807. For a similar stress on the ambiguities of the report, see G. Field, ‘Perspectives on the Working-class Family in Wartime Britain, 1939–1945’, International Labor and Working-Class History, 38 (1990), 10–12.

(25) WGPW, Our Towns, pp. xiv–xv.

(26) Ibid., 101–2.

(27) Ann Summers, ‘A Home from Home—Women's Philanthropic Work in the Nineteenth Century’, in S. Burman (ed.), Fit Work for Women (London, 1979); F. K. Prochaska, Women and Philanthropy in Nineteenth-century England (Oxford, 1980); Ellen Ross, ‘Good and Bad Mothers: Lady Philanthropists and London Housewives before the First World War’, in K. D. McCarthy (ed.), Lady Bountiful Revisited: Women, Philanthropy, and Power (Piscataway, NJ, 1990); S. Pederson, ‘Gender, Welfare and Citizenship in Britain during the Great War’, American Historical Review, 94 (1990), 992–3.

(28) WGPW, Our Towns, 6.

(29) Ibid., 102.

(30) Ibid., pp. xvii, xviii, 106–8, 110.

(31) Aneurin Bevan, cited in D. Matless, Landscape and Englishness (London, 1998), 234–5. See also Lewis Silkin, ‘Creating Communities’, Social Service, 21 (1947).

(32) Liverpool Women's Organizations Committee, Minutes, 3 Nov. 1939, WF K41.

(33) WGPW, Our Towns, 107.

(34) M. Bondfield, WGPW Press Statement, 30 Nov. 1943, WF A42; WGPW Newsletter (July 1944), 9, WF I7.

(35) ‘Standing Conferences. The Principle of Group Action Inspired by Soroptimism’, Oct. 1943; ‘Group Action Councils’, 1942, in WF I2; Report of Joint Conference of WGPW and SCWO, 23 June 1945, WF J2. The name ‘Group Action Council’ derived from the United States where British delegates attending the 1938 International Convention of Soroptimists had been impressed by research and lobbying organizations operating under this name. Elizabeth Hawes, the Soroptimist leader, had made an unsuccessful attempt to launch the Councils in Britain shortly before the war (D. Warner, ‘Miss Elizabeth Hawes, MBE’, n.d., WF H6).

(36) British Soroptimist (Aug. 1942). She herself was extremely active in lobbying Whitehall on behalf of housewives, battling—without much success—to persuade Whitehall to rationalize and streamline its machinery for cajoling ordinary housewives to observe the disciplines of austerity. She did this, however, not as a representative of the housewife—she herself had no time for housework—but as a professional woman to whom the housewife was something of an irritant.

(37) Townswoman (May 1947); Liverpool Council of Social Service Minutes of a Meeting of Women's Organizations, 28 Feb. 1939, WF K41; ‘Statement on Women's Organizations’, 30 June 1942, WF I2; Report of a Meeting to Discuss Group Action Councils, 11 Nov. 1942, WF II; Circular to Regional Officers of NCSS, 25 Mar. 1943, WF I2. The WGPW file on Liverpool (WF K41) contains copious material on the activities of the women's organizations in the city.

(38) Co-ordinating Committee of Leicester Women's Organizations, Minutes, 15 May 1942, Leciester RO, SCWO DE 3104/2; NCW, Minutes 14 Oct. 1942, WF I2; ‘Group Action Councils’, 1942, in WF I2; Warner, ‘Miss Elizabeth Hawes, MBE’. Dora Warner—a leading figure among British Soroptimists—was the moving spirit behind the Leicester initiative.

(39) Report of the Second Meeting of the Women's Group on Group Action Councils, 27 Nov. 1942, WFII.

(40) NCW, Minutes, 14 Oct. 1942, WF I2; Report of a Meeting to Discuss Group Action Councils, 11 Nov. 1942, WF Ii; Coventry NCW, Minutes, 31 July, 25 Sept. 1942, Coventry RO, PA/1269; Coventry EAW, Minutes, 1 Apr. 1943, Coventry RO 1199.

(41) ‘Group Action Councils’, 1942, in WF 12; Horton to Hawes, 21 Oct. 1942, WF I2; Report of the Second Meeting of the Women's Group on Group Action Councils, 27 Nov. 1942, WF I1; WGPW, Minutes, 12 Mar. 1947, WF A1.

(42) Warner, ‘Miss Elizabeth Hawes, MBE’; Harford to NCSS Regional Officers, 25 Mar. 1943, WF I2.

(43) Townswoman (May 1943), 123–4.

(44) ‘Group Action Councils’, 4 Dec. 1942, WF I2; Harford to Farrer, 15 Jan. 1943, WF I2; Warner, ‘Miss Elizabeth Hawes, MBE’; Reports of Meetings to Discuss Group Action Councils, 11 and 27 Nov. 1942, WF I1.

(45) As Harford admitted to the NFBPW: Harford to Deakin, 28 July 1944, WF I3

(46) Soroptimist Club of Nottingham, Minutes, 16 Mar., 17 Apr., 15 July 1943, Nottingham shire RO, DDSO/2/2; SCWO Sub-Committee, Minutes, 25 July 1944, WF I3; Warner to Harford, 12 May 1943, WG/I2.

(47) Report of the Standing Conference Advisory Committee, 194 8–1950, WF H6; SCWO Constitution, 1949, WF 12; Warner, ‘Miss Elizabeth Hawes, MBE’; List of local SCWOs, n.d. (?Spring 1943), WF I2.

(48) WGPW Sub-committee on SCWOs, Minutes, 18 July 1946, WF I1.

(49) Women in Council (Sept. 1947), 8–10; Bondfield, Statement to Membership, 24 Sept. 1947, WF G2. In some areas, however, the local NCW worked happily enough with the SCWO: NCW, North East Region, Minutes, 21 Jan. 1948, Calder Valley RO NCW 40.

(50) Harford to Hamilton, 11 Aug. 1944, WF K 76; Report of the Standing Conference Advisory Committee, 1948–1950, WF H6; Draft Report on SCWOs, n.d. (?1951), WF H6; Brasnett, Voluntary Social Action, 109, 194–6.

(51) Coventry Soroptimists Club, Minutes, 14 Sept. 1943, 12 Dec. 1944; 21 Mar. 1946, Coventry RO, 1000/1/1.

(52) WGPW Newsletter (July 1944), WF I7.

(53) Leicester SCWO, Minutes, 25 June 1945, 25 Mar. 1946, LRO, DE 3104/2; Leicester SCWO, Chairman's Report for 1947–8, WF K38; Halifax SCWO, Minutes, 20 May, 28 June, 29 July 1946, 11 June 1948, Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1; Liverpool Post (8 Feb. 1946); Golders Green SCWO, Minutes, 25 Feb. 1946, WF K27.

(54) SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 21 Sept. 1945, WF13; Leicester SCWO, Minutes, 3 Feb. 1947, LRO, DE 3104/2. On the British Housewives League, see J. Hinton, ‘Militant House wives: The British Housewives’ League and the Attlee Government’, History Workshop Journal, 38 (1994), 129–56; Elizabeth McCarty, ‘Attitudes to Women and Domesticity in England, circa 1939–1955’, Oxford D.Phil., 1994, 309–10.

(55) Wife and Citizen (organ of the Married Women's Association) (Feb. 1947), 8. On the MWA campaign, see Catherine Blackford, ‘Wives and Citizens and Watchdogs of Quality: Post-War British Feminism’, in J. Fyrth (ed.), Labour's Promised Land? Culture and Society in Labour Britain, 1945–51 (London, 1995), 60–4.

(56) ‘Standing Conferences’, Oct. 1943, WF I2; Townswoman (Oct. 1943); Franklin, ‘Notes for a Talk to a Mass Meeting of … Members’, Aug. 1944, in PRO MAF 102 10.

(57) Townswoman (May 1943) (emphasis added). See also WGPW, Our Towns are our Opportunities. Suggestions for Standing Conferences of Women's Organisations (London, 1948), 6–7.

(58) Halifax SCWO Annual Reports, 1944, 1945, 1946, and Minutes, passim, Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1.

(59) WGPW Newsletter (July 1944), WF I7. This often had an underlying teetotal purpose—British Restaurants were not permitted to sell alcohol (Report of Birmingham and District SCWO, July 1946, WF K6).

(60) Leicester SCWO, Chairman's Report, 1948–9 and 1949–50, WF K38; Coventry Soroptimists Club, Minutes, 15 June, 14 Sept., 11 Dec. 1943, Coventry RO, 1000/1/1; WGPW Newsletter (July 1944), WF I7. For discussion of this moral agenda during the 1940s see Sonya O. Rose, ‘Sex, Citizenship and the Nation in World War II Britain’, American Historical Review, 103 (1998); G. Field, ‘Perspectives on the Working-class Family in Wartime Britain, 1939–1945’, International Labor and Working-Class History, 38 (1990).

(61) WGPW Newsletter (July 1944), WF I7; WGPW, Our Towns are our Opportunities, 15; Halifax SCWO, Annual Reports, 1944, 1945, 1946, Calder Valley RO, Misc. 73 3/1/1; Leicester SCWO, Chairman's Report for 1949–50, WF K38; Horton to Harford, 31 Mar. 1944 on the activities of the Bristol SCWO, WF K20.

(62) ‘Standing Conferences. The Principle of Group Action inspired by Soroptimism’, Oct. 1943, WF I2.

(63) Ward to Harford, 5 Oct. 1944, WF I3.

(64) Annual Report of Birmingham SCWO, July 1946, WF K6; Leicester SCWO, Minutes, 14 July 1944, Leicester RO, DE 3104/2; Horton to Harford, 31 Mar. 1944 on the activities of the Bristol SCWO, WF K20. The Leeds Town Council refused to admit even a single woman to its Reconstruction Committee in 1944: WGPW Sub-Committee on SCWOs, Minutes, 10 Feb., 24 May 1944, WF I3; secretary of Leeds SCWO to Harford, 21 Jan. 1944, WF K37.

(65) Halifax SCWO Annual Reports, 1944, 1945; Halifax SCWO, Minutes, 21 Feb., 22 May 1944, Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1; Halifax NCW, Minutes, 10 Sept. 1943, 12 Sept. 1947, 16 Jan. 1948, Calder Valley RO; WGPW, Our Towns are our Opportunities, 6.

(66) Halifax SCWO, Minutes, 4 July, 21 Aug., 18 Sept. 1944 Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1.

(67) Ibid., 19 Apr. 1943, 6 July 1945.

(68) Ibid, 1 Sept., 1 and 19 Oct. 1945; E. Cockcroft, ‘Silver Jubilee Poems’, 1948, Calder Valley RO, SOR 4/24; Halifax Courier and Guardian (27 Jan. 1945, 27 Oct. 1945, 3 Nov. 1945.

(69) Halifax SCWO, Minutes, 16 Oct. 1944, 19 Nov. 1945, 21 Jan. 1946, 3 Apr. 1946, Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1.

(70) Leamington Group Action Council, Minutes, 8 Dec. 1943; Toulmin to Harford, 21 Dec. 1943, 28 Feb. 1944; Harford to Toulmin 24 Feb. 1944, WF K36; SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 19 Jan. 1944, WF I3; SJC, Minutes, 9 Dec. 1943, LP NEC.

(71) Coventry SCWO, Annual Report, Apr. 1946, WF K20.

(72) Cooper to Harford, 11 May 1945, WF K29.

(73) Darlington SCWO, Annual Reports, 1945 and 1946, Durham RO.

(74) Portsmouth Women's Citizen's Association, Minutes, 20 Sept. 1945, 8 Dec. 1948, Ports mouth RO, 1055a.

(75) Townswoman (May 1945), 129–3 138; A. Franklin, ‘Notes for a Talk to a Mass Meeting of… Members’, Aug. 1944, in PRO, MAF 102 10; ‘Clubs, Societies and Democracy’, Planning, 263, 21 Mar. 1947, 13–14. For examples of such activity in Birmingham, Leicester, Northampton, Scarborough, Blyth, and Hull see: Birmingham and District SCWO, Annual Report, 1943–4, WF K6; Leicester SCWO, Chairman's Reports for 1948–9 and 1949–50, WF K38; WGPW Newsletter, July 1944, WF I7, 13; Blair to King, 15 Jan., 1947, WF K 82; Johnson to King, 10 Apr. 1947, WF K34.

(76) S. Fielding, ‘The Second World War and Popular Radicalism: The Significance of the “Movement away from Party”’, History, 80 (1995).

(77) Harford to Cooper, 14 May 1945, WF K 29.

(78) P. Hollis, Ladies Elect, Women in English Local Government, 1865–1914 (Oxford, 1987), 464.

(79) SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 20 Mar. 1944, WF I3. She was commenting on a report that Boot and Shoe Workers had refused to affiliate to the SCWO in Leicester.

(80) Sutherland to Whyatt, 4 Mar. 1945, WF 16 [emphasis added]. From the beginning the SJC line had been that while they would refrain from advising local groups not to join SCWOs they would urge them to remember that their own work should come first: SJC, Minutes, 8 Apr. 1943, LP NEC; SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 19 Jan., 20 Mar. 1944, WF I3

(81) Leicester SCWO, Minutes, 15 May 1942, 7 June 1948, 23 Oct. 1950, Leicester Record Office, DE 3104/3; Warner to King, 12 May, 4 June 1947, WF K38; SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 20 Mar. 1944, WF I3; Citizen (Jan. 1948), 22–3.

(82) For example, the WCG (but not the Labour Party) were affiliated in Bristol, Birmingham, Liverpool, and Lincoln: SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 17 Jan. 1945, WF I3; Birmingham SCWO, Annual Report, July 1946, WF K6; Liverpool SCWO, list of affiliates, 1947, WF K42; Lincoln SCWO, list of affiliates, 1949, WF K40.

(83) Golders Green, where several Labour women occupied leading positions, provides a possible exception (Golder's Green SCWO, Minutes, 25 Feb. 1946, WF K27), as does Croydon, where in 1946 the Conservatives believed that the very active SCWO was being taken over by socialists (South-east Area Conservative Women's Advisory Committee, Minutes, 10 July 1946, CPA, ARE9/11/4; SCWO Sub-committee, Minutes, 28 Apr., 24 May 1944, WFI3; correspondence and reports in WF K24). However, a further exception, Luton—where the SCWO was being run in the early 1950s by the delegate from the WCG—was seen by the WGPW as a failing organization which demonstrated the inadequacy of working-class leadership (correspondence in WF K45).

(84) When Oxley became a councillor, however, she ceased to be active in the SCWO. Halifax SCWO, Minutes, 1 Mar., 8 Nov. 1943, 19 Nov. 1945, Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1; Halifax Labour Party Women's Section, Minutes, 2 Feb. 1943, 23 May 1944, Calder Valley RO, TU28/8.

(85) Ibid., 24 Oct. 1944.

(86) Dixon to Oakley, 21 Jan. 1946; Halifax SCWO, Minutes, 17 Dec. 1945 Calder Valley RO, Misc. 733/1/1; Halifax Labour Party Women's Section, Minutes, 20 Nov. 1945, Calder Valley RO, TU28/8.

(87) McKibbin, ‘Class and Conventional Wisdom: The Conservative Party and the “Public” in Inter-war Britain’, in The Ideologies of Class: Social Relations in Britain, 1880–1950 (Oxford, 1990); K. Young, Local Politics and the Rise of Party. The London Municipal Society and the Conservative Intervention in Local Elections, 1894–1963 (Leicester, 1975), 186–93; Ken Young, ‘The Party and English Local Government’, in A. Seldon and S. Ball (eds.), Conservative Century (Oxford, 1994); Ball, ‘Local Conservatism’, ibid.; J. W. B. Bates, ‘The Conservative Party in the Constituencies, 1918–1939’, Oxford D.Phil., 1994, 218–19, 230 ff.

(88) WGPW, Press Release, 30 Nov. 1943, WF A42; ‘Group Action Councils’, 1942, WF I2.

(89) All of the nine new SCWOs formed in 1951, for example, were initiated by Business and Professional Women's Clubs or Soroptimists. Members of these two organizations also predominated among those enquiring about the possibility of setting up new SCWOs, with the Townswomen coming a poor third (Draft Report on SCWOs, n.d. (?1951), WF H6).

(90) Warner to Homer, 28 May 1951, WF H6.

(91) Townswoman, Apr. 1944; SCWO Sub-Committee Minutes, 28 Apr. 1944, WF I3.

(92) WGPW Executive Minutes, 15 Apr., 1 July 1943, 6 Mar. 1944, WF AI. Dorothy Paterson, who set up the Council of Seven Beliefs for the Guardianship of Family Life in order to promote women's post-war return to domesticity, opposed not only equal opportunities for women in the labour market but also their participation in political life, earning her the hostility of feminists and the mainstream women's organizations alike (International Women's News (June and July 1943); D. Paterson, The Family Woman and the Feminist. A Challenge (London, 1945); Penny Summerfield, Reconstructing Women's Wartime Lives (Manchester, 1998), 255–6).

(93) Horton to Harford, 3 Mar. 1944, WF A8; WGPW Executive, Minutes, 6 Mar. 1944, 30 Jan. 1946, WF AI.

(94) In Birmingham, for example, the feminist Women for Westminster held one of the five offices, despite the fact that nationally they were refused membership of the Women's Group as a ‘mushroom organization’ (WGPW Executive, Minutes, 1 July 1943, 6 Feb. 1945; Annual Report of Birmingham SCWO, 1943–4, in WF K6).

(95) Interview with Tamara Rust, 15 Nov. 1990. The TUC file on the Women's Parliament (TUC 292/778.29/2) is a valuable source for this under-researched organization.

(96) SJC Minutes, 9 Dec. 1943, LP NEC; Report of a Meeting to Discuss Group Action Councils, 11 Nov. 1942; Report of the Second Meeting of the Women's Group on Group Action Councils, 27 Nov. 1942, WF I1; SCWO Sub-committee Minutes, 1 June, 9 Dec. 1943 WF I1.

(97) SCWO Sub-committee Minutes, 24 May 1944, WF I1.

(98) In deference to the SJC the Birmingham group was advised to sound out the local Labour Party before acting. Harford to Hayes, 9 Oct. 1944, WF K6; SCWO Sub-committee Minutes, 20 Sept. 1944, WF I1. In June 1943 the Communist Party had applied, unsuccessfully, for representation on the national WGPW (ibid., 1 June 1943). But local Communist branches were represented on many SCWOs until 1948, when the Party appears to have lost interest.

(99) Warner to King, 4 June 1947, WF K3 8. See Ch. 3 above for the conflict between Courtney and the NUTG old guard.