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Men and women in peacetime

Updated Thursday 12th February 2009

The war had changed social mores - but did the peace mean a return to the old way of doing things?

Historians are divided over whether the war made any lasting improvements in the status of women. Women undoubtedly fulfilled important wartime roles (for example factory work and on the land).

Many filled jobs vacated by men who had either enlisted or been conscripted into the armed services and associated activities. Often this was on the assumption that they would cease these activities once peace and normality returned.

However, at the same time, a woman was still expected to fulfil her traditional role as faithful wife, mother and carer.

During the late 1940s and 1950s the number of married women in employment dramatically fell from its wartime peak.

In 1951, the proportion of women in employment was only marginally more than it had been twenty years earlier.

Nevertheless, the role of women in British society was rapidly changing during the 1940s and 50s.

The long-held prejudices against married women taking jobs (often only part-time) were weakening, but the traditional view of the man as the ‘bread winner’ remained. However, the additional income derived from their employment could make life more bearable.

Audio

Copyright BBC

Text

HAZEL
I managed to get some cheap cuts in the market. If they know you and you get there late-ish, there’s some real bargains on offer.

GRANVILLE [CHEWING]
Not bad. [PAUSE] We could flog your old typewriter , couldn’t we? It’s neither use nor ornament at the moment.

HAZEL
Let’s hang on to it. It was my Dad’s.

GRANVILLE
If you must… [PAUSE] What about jobs? Any luck?

HAZEL
There was just the one. Temporary work, delivering the post at Christmas.

GRANVILLE
That’s not on. No wife of mine’s going to be hauling heavy sacks round the town.

HAZEL
I don’t like the sound of it any more than you do, but it’s all that’s on offer; and we’re pretty desperate. Anyway, it’s always possible…

GRANVILLE
What?

HAZEL
There might be something to write about.

GRANVILLE
In Huddersfield Post Office? I don’t think so, do you?

Hazel’s diary entry for Thursday 28 October, 1948 illustrates the changed circumstances she found herself in.

At the same time as the family shop remained open, its fittings were being sold. Additionally, her need to secure alternative employment can be seen in the references to applying for local jobs before seeking refuge in the Women’s Royal Naval Service.

Harriet's diary from October 28th 1948 Copyrighted image Icon Copyright: Production team

However, despite some softening in attitudes, the traditional role of looking after and bringing up children remained a full-time job in its own right.

Audio

Copyright BBC

Text

 

HAZEL [Writing in her diary]
May 4, 1954. Our daughter, Elizabeth Anne, arrived at 11.50 a.m. A royal name for our own little princess. Granville came at 7.30 p.m. His eyes were full of delight, and he asked “aren’t you glad she’s here?” He had a big bunch of flowers with him. Goodness knows where he found the money to pay for them. My next literary effort will probably be Chronicles of a Demented Mother. Tearing up nighties for nappies. But for now, I feel very content. Alarmingly content, in fact. And too tired even to try to write my diary.

 

 

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