Domesticity and Motherhood | History Dissertations

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Ä return to domesticity and motherhood in Britain in the years 1919-1939

This dissertation analyses the extent of women’s return to domesticity and motherhood in Britain in the years 1919-1939. Applying to the primary sources taken from women’s magazines, newspapers and novels and utilising the feminist approach and the social constructionist approach, the research identifies social, political and historical reasons to explain women’s position at the beginning of the twentieth century. The findings of the paper suggest that after the First World War the country began to revive the cult of domesticity, returning to the traditional stereotypes in regard to females. Those women who continued to work were rejected by society. However, British women managed to turn the principles of domesticity and motherhood into a new direction, combining their domestic duties with professional careers. Thus, some received results are consistent with the previous researches, while other results provide new findings, concerning the discussed issue. In this regard, the interwar revival of domesticity does not represent women’s loss of independence, but instead contributes to the creation of a new female identity.

1 Statement of the problem

Although the beginning of the twentieth century in Britain demonstrated the rise of the suffrage movement and the implementation of the voting rights for females, the period of 1919-1939 revealed women’s return to domesticity and motherhood. Despite the fact that there were some tensions between the former ideologies and new principles of females’ independence, British women successfully coped with the existing domestic restrictions and renewed the ideals of motherhood. However, the conditions of domesticity slightly differed in middle-class and working-class families due to different social status of these groups.

2 Introduction

During the First World War the usual females’ roles in Britain were exposed to some changes: women substituted men in munitions factories and other plants, achieving a certain degree of independence. They faced new perspectives and managed to acquire financial security. However, in the post-war period the cult of domesticity gained much strength, and British females were forced to return to domesticity and motherhood. This sudden shift in roles can be explained by various social and political events occurred within the country. British society that experienced considerable difficulties after the War began to idealise women who devoted themselves to a family and, on the contrary, expressed enmity to those females who wanted to work and acquire economic independence. Thousands of women were discharged from factories and they could not find another place of employment. According to Jude Giles, the popular British papers constantly advocated the principles of domesticity and motherhood, strongly criticising unmarried females who challenged the existing socialstereotypes1. British fiction and films depicted women within domestic sphere, while all other spheres were restricted for females. Although the voting rights for females were preserved, constant attempts were made by some politicians to introduce certain restrictions into the process of voting. Thus, British society gradually returned to the traditional division of gender roles; and,

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