E.A. McCarty: ‘Attitudes to Women and Domesticity in England, c.1939-1955’

McCarty, E.A. ‘Attitudes to women and domesticity in England, c.1939-1955’
D.Phil completed, 1994. Oxford University

Abstract: This thesis is a study of attitudes to women and domesticity in England, c. 1939-55. It focuses on attitudes to women and domesticity as they were expressed in a representative range of contemporary discourses, and the ways in which these attitudes were shaped by social, political and economic concerns. In particular, it looks at representations of women as housewives, an image which predominated during the 1940s and 1950s, and which signified women’s relationship not only to the home, but also to the ‘public’ sphere of paid work, politics and the state. The thesis argues that attitudes to women and domesticity were both more complex and more diverse than has often been allowed; and that the period saw the evolution of new and distinctive understandings of the housewife in response to the particular circumstances of the war and post-war years. Moreover, one such understanding, shared by a number of individuals and women’s groups, of the emancipatory potential of the home and the housewife’s role, has been insufficiently acknowledged by a later generation of historians, to whom the figure of the housewife has come to present women’s entrapment, not their emancipation. Chapter one discusses the historiographical issues involved in a study of domesticity. Chapter two outlines the key changes taking place in the material conditions of domestic life in the period after the First World War through to the mid-1950s. Chapter three and four examine attitudes to women, marriage and family in contemporary sociological literature and in popular women’s magazines.