Women in the Shadow War: Gender, Class and MI5 in the Second World War

TitleWomen in the Shadow War: Gender, Class and MI5 in the Second World War
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsToy, Rosemary Florence, and Christopher Smith
JournalWomen's History Review
Pagination688 - 706
Date Published07/2017

During the Second World War, the women employed in Britain’s secret Security Service (MI5) far outnumbered their male colleagues, with a ratio of twelve women for every five men. Their numbers grew rapidly over the course of the war and by 1941 stood at over 800. Despite the vast influx of female labour into the agency, attitudes towards the role of women in intelligence, be it as wartime workers or as secret agents, demonstrated remarkable continuity with those of the interwar period. Women were near universally restricted to subordinate roles; typically of clerical and secretarial nature in the case of office staff. Similarly, internal attitudes regarding those traits which produced the best agents and intelligence officers, shaped by wider understandings of both masculinity and social status, demonstrated considerable resilience. Drawing upon declassified official records, this article argues that MI5’s wartime experiences did little to alter the agency’s attitudes to gender.

Entry by GWC Assistants / Work by GWC Assistants : 

Type of Literature:

Time Period: