The Nadir of British Feminism 1945–1959?

  • Martin Pugh


Whatever happened to British feminists and the women’s movement during the period between the Labour landslide of 1945 and the revivalism associated with ‘women’s liberation’ in the 1960s? The conventional assumption that feminism was a spent force that petered out in a decade of conservatism and materialism, though not without empirical foundation, is a considerable exaggeration. The post-war backlash against feminism flourished through the 1950s, especially in the pages of the women’s magazines. Witness a typical attack on the working mother by Monica Dickens in 1956:

Will her children love her more if she is an efficient career woman who pops in and out of the house at intervals, knows a lot of stimulating people, and can talk about everything, except pleasant, trivial, day-to-day matters that are the breath of family life? … She is not cheating her children by staying at home. She is giving them the supreme gift — herself. Long after they have left home, they will be grateful to her.1

By 1956, however, this was more a defensive attempt to boost the morale of mothers who remained at home than a realistic effort at stemming the drift to work. In some ways a more characteristic expression of the mid-1950s was Alva Myrdal and Viola Klein’s cautiously argued book, Women’s Two Roles (1956), which suggested that paid employment and family responsibilities were compatible for women.


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© Martin Pugh 2000

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  • Martin Pugh

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