Women, Social Leadership, and the Second World War: Continuities of Class

TitleWomen, Social Leadership, and the Second World War: Continuities of Class
Publication TypeBook
Year of Publication2002
AuthorsHinton, James
Number of Pages300
PublisherOxford University Press

During the Second World War women's clubs, guilds, and institutes provided a basis for the mobilization of up to a million women, mainly housewives, into unpaid part-time work. Women's Voluntary Services (WVS) — which was set up by the government in 1938 to organize this work — generated a rich archive of reports and correspondence which provide the social historian with a unique window into the female public sphere. Questioning the view that World War II served to democratize English society, the book shows how the mobilization enabled middle-class social leaders to reinforce their claims to authority. Displaying ‘character’ through their voluntary work, the leisured women at the centre of this study made themselves indispensable to the war effort. The book delineates these ‘continuities of class’, reconstructing intimate portraits of local female social leadership in contrasting settings across provincial England, tracing complex and often acerbic rivalries within the voluntary sector, and uncovering gulfs of mutual distrust and incomprehension dividing publicly active women along gendered frontiers of class and party.

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