K.L.Parker: ‘Women MPs, Feminism and Domestic Policy in the Second World War’

Parker, K.L. ‘Women MPs, Feminism and Domestic Policy in the Second World War’
D.Phil completed, 1994. Oxford University

Abstract: This thesis examines the role of women MPs in framing domestic policy, perceptions of gender roles, and feminism during the Second World War. Revising questions posed by previous studies, it explores how the women MPs defined ’emancipation’ for women, the terms under which they were willing to advance gender-based claims, and the forces which affected their efforts. It aims to demonstrate that the women MPs helped to shape a feminist political programme which moved beyond a simple claim for equal legal rights. ‘Total war’ provided them with an opportunity to put aside political differences to unite in demanding both that women be included fully in the war effort and that women’s traditional roles be recognised as socially and economically valuable. After an introduction which elaborates these points, Chapter 2 introduces the fourteen women MPs. Chapter 3 traces the formation of the Woman Power Committee and its arguments for women’s full participation in the war effort and for recognition of the rights of mothers and housewives. Chapter 4 investigates the women MP’s role in framing the British welfare state, including their support for family allowances and Beveridge’s ‘housewives’ charter’. Chapters 5 and 6 focus on the position of women MPs and gender-based political claims within the context of the Labour and Conservative parties. Drawing upon parliamentary speeches, government records, party archives and private papers, this study supports the claim advanced by several recent historians that the Second World War did not initiate widespread changes in the status of women.