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Domesticity and motherhood in the uk 1919 1939

  1. Readers of Farmer and Stockbreeder were immersed in a make-do-and-mend mentality that included sewing, knitting and darning clothes, distempering walls, repairing broken chair webbing, retiling the hearth, repapering walls and stencilling. The increase in female trade union membership from only 357,000 in 1914 to over a million by 1918 represented an increase in the number of unionised women of 160 per cent.
  2. In 1928, this was boosted to 15 million, or 53 per cent of total number of women.
  3. As Penny Tinkler has argued, although in the interwar period there was anxiety that the modern career girl would undermine the ascendancy of marriage and patriarchal relations, the privileging of feminized jobs preserved dominant cultural constructs of womanhood, matrimony and family life.

It shows that although these home pages replicated the content of contemporary women's magazines, focusing largely on domesticity and motherhood, they did so within the framework of a rural agenda which recognized the distinct environment of farm women's lives. This could lead to contestation, in that the traditional and the modern, the city and the countryside, produced competing images of rural women's social and economic roles.

Ultimately, however, the agricultural press offers an optimistic vision of the farmwoman — or the modern countrywoman as they often labelled her — portraying her as an integral part of household, farm and community. The common assumption that the countrywoman cares only about domesticity is not true.

Moreover, it is most unfair.

Women on the Home Front in World War One

There are hundreds of countrywomen today who are working partners. Their husbands know and appreciate this — their wives have studied the techniques of farming and the success or failure of their efforts is jointly shared. Her response was not exceptional. Others emphasized the varied and fulfilling lifestyles enjoyed by women, encompassing the arts, literature, handicrafts, gardening, food production, village organizations and politics, and, for those married to farmers, practical involvement in the farm business.

They suggest the prevailing interwar ideology of domesticity was not all-encompassing, with women contributing economically to farm households and benefiting widely from social and cultural change in the countryside. They point to the infiltration of elements of the modern and urban into what is often presumed to be a traditional, backward-looking rural society, and they reveal the parallels and distinctions drawn between town and country life.

Finally they are representative of a rich and varied source — the printed farming press — which has yet to be fully exploited by historians. Front cover of Farmer and Stockbreeder, 9 March 1937. Its pre First World War coverage was limited to less than a page and its format concentrated on simple food recipes and dress patterns.

It was during the interwar period that the home page evolved and gained a more visible identity.

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By that time Farmer and Stockbreeder had established itself as the dominant weekly farming publication, selling over 100,000 copies by 1919. This began publication in June 1934 and presented the voice of the confident, large-scale, forward-thinking tenant farming class.

  • This article uses a range of official sources, parish council records, the records of charity organizations, and newspaper reports to assess the effects of World War I on women and children demonstrating how, in Scotland, World War I resulted in greater state regulation of single and married women;
  • Readers were persuaded to make use of everything at their disposal and recipes for dishes from leftovers featured heavily, as did reminders of nutritious foodstuffs to be garnered free of charge from field and hedgerow;
  • It was during the interwar period that the home page evolved and gained a more visible identity;
  • With the centenary of outbreak of the conflict approaching, the history of the war continues to be dominated by military history and considerations of the economic aftermath of war.

Women were encouraged to take part in this process. Our real purpose is to be the link between your work and leisure and the rest of the world. It was edited by Mary Day, the pen name of Mary Grigs, who had grown up and worked in London as a young woman. The home pages of the farming press present an unparalleled source for those researching British farmers and their families. Farmers as a social and economic class have always represented a divergent and movable group in British society, ranging from the enormously wealthy managerial farmer down to the smallholder scratching a living on a few acres.

The farming press does need to be approached with caution however.

State Regulation, Family Breakdown, and Lone Motherhood

Fry uncovered the complex relationship between publishers, editors, reformers and readers of Midwestern farm newspapers in the USA. The once-dominant impression of an era of decline, characterized by agricultural depression and the collapse of traditional rural social and economic structures, has been replaced in the recent historiography with a more complex model of continuity and change, with regional economic, social and physical diversity remaining paramount, and traditional rural ways of life wrestling with the increasing infiltration of modern and often urban forms of progress, lifestyles and outlooks.

Women were primarily charged with management of the home and care of the family. Following the configuration of the mass-circulation weekly magazines, the farm home pages were dominated by an annual cycle of articles related to cooking, bottling and preserving food, cleaning, home decoration and furnishing. These were depicted as skilled and worthwhile, an essential element in the maintenance and well-being of the farm business.

Farm service, where young unmarried farm workers were hired on an annual contract and lived in the farmhouse, persisted in areas of northern England, Wales and Scotland in the interwar period, but was largely ignored in the home pages as it challenged the prevailing model of the privatized nuclear family.

As agricultural depression tightened its grip in the late 1920s and early 1930s the household and budgeting skills of women became paramount. Readers were persuaded to make use of everything at their disposal and recipes for dishes from leftovers featured heavily, as did reminders of nutritious foodstuffs to be garnered free of charge from field and hedgerow. Readers of Farmer and Stockbreeder were immersed in a make-do-and-mend mentality that included sewing, knitting and darning clothes, distempering walls, repairing broken chair webbing, retiling the hearth, repapering walls and stencilling.

The home pages were keen to uphold and conserve traditional methods and approaches associated with the rural domestic economy. The perpetrators of this threat came from both inside and outside the rural world, as mass production, education programmes and farming practices all increasingly brought standardization. The regional distinctiveness of the countryside was therefore in danger. It also exposed a tension between modernity and traditional ways domesticity and motherhood in the uk 1919 1939 rural life and a strain of conservative ruralism that was a significant part of the farming press in the interwar years.

Modern household appliances were represented as potentially labour-saving, enabling women to reallocate their time away from material aspects of family welfare washing, cleaning and heating to social and cultural family pursuits. Warmth, light, cleanliness and comfort were all promised, banishing the need to make fires, carry coal, pump water or fill lamps. Household appliances were shown as introducing the modern comforts enjoyed by town women into the farmhouse.

Kitchen equipment was also presented as complementary to modern farm technology managed by men. The rhetoric began to change. Farm women were now repositioned on a par with their urban sisters, conversant with modern tastes and trends. They were increasingly reproved for not paying attention to their style and appearance.

That legendary figure has long ceased to exist, and her place has been taken by the modern countrywoman, who pays frequent shopping visits to town and who purchases with discrimination the lovely tweeds and jaunty hats which fill to perfection a dual role.

  • Advertisement for electricity, Farmers Weekly, 28 December 1934;
  • Between 1914 and 1918, an estimated two million women replaced men in employment, resulting in an increase in the proportion of women in total employment from 24 per cent in July 1914 to 37 per cent by November 1918.

Did it reflect their everyday experiences? We clearly need to tread with caution here. As we saw in the introduction, women themselves often connected their identities to roles beyond the domestic sphere. Advertisement for electricity, Farmers Weekly, 28 December 1934. This divergence should not obscure the important role the home pages played in representing rural domesticity as a worthwhile, up-to-date and inclusive experience. As in other newspapers, negative aspects of domestic life, such as the breakdown of relationships and the pressures wrought by financial collapse, were not covered by these home pages.

It was shown to be an engaging and valuable role for married farm women, the bedrock of a satisfying and prosperous farming world.

  • The once-dominant impression of an era of decline, characterized by agricultural depression and the collapse of traditional rural social and economic structures, has been replaced in the recent historiography with a more complex model of continuity and change, with regional economic, social and physical diversity remaining paramount, and traditional rural ways of life wrestling with the increasing infiltration of modern and often urban forms of progress, lifestyles and outlooks;
  • Capitalizing on increasing demand from towns and cities, poultry numbers doubled in the decade between 1924 and 1934 and accounted for an increasingly significant share of agricultural profits;
  • For instance, in 1921, female civil servants passed a resolution asking for the banning of married women from their jobs.

Most importantly, though, as mothers of the next generation of rural inhabitants, women were charged with ensuring their children received an education that would fit them, both practically and psychologically, for life on the farm. Although the rural population was actually beginning to increase in the interwar period, reversing the trend of many decades, this growth was the result of the in-migration of urban men and women in search of their own piece of the rural idyll.

Farmer and Stockbreeder reported in 1926, There can be no homes throughout the country in which it is felt more keenly than in farmhouses that the education given of late years to our children and young people in village schools is not calculated to fit them for a rural life, or cause them to live happily and usefully amid their native surroundings. Whether boys or girls the young people strain at the leash.

A town life is what they long for, and they worry themselves and their elders until they get it; with the result that the towns are overcrowded, and it becomes harder and harder for the workers there to obtain employment; while on the farms a hundred and one things cry out to be attended to, and there are too few hands to do them.

The exposure of sub-standard administration and teaching in rural schools led to much post-war discussion of the most appropriate education and training provision for rural children.

The home pages assisted them in this by heavily featuring career opportunities for the daughters of farmers, where they promoted positive, attractive and accessible images of young rural working women.

Townsfolk have wakened up to the practical advantages domesticity and motherhood in the uk 1919 1939 letting their girls earn money; perhaps they understand also that independence gives a girl a feeling of personal dignity and self-reliance which is not without its value if she marries, and which is even more valuable if she remains single… But country-folk are notoriously slower to adopt to new ideas.

Too many daughters are kept at home to help mother as a matter of course, regardless of the particular abilities of the girls themselves. The work was depicted as clean, light, engaging and potentially lucrative for young single women.

As Penny Tinkler has argued, although in the interwar period there was anxiety that the modern career girl would undermine the ascendancy of marriage and patriarchal relations, the privileging of feminized jobs preserved dominant cultural constructs of womanhood, matrimony and family life. During an era of depression many small farms would have cut costs by increasing the use of family labour at the expense of hired labour, and the often essential contribution made by the wives and families of small farmers was recognized by a range of commentators in the late 1920s.

The first was schemes involving the breeding and rearing of small animals. Capitalizing on increasing demand from towns and cities, poultry numbers doubled in the decade between 1924 and 1934 and accounted for an increasingly significant share of agricultural profits.

Soft fruit was considered a straightforward and potentially profitable avenue, needing little outlay and generating a profitable turnaround in a short period. The proceeds of our retail trade usually pay for the picking. On the whole, we think if every acre of the farm paid the same percentage of profit as the raspberries, farming would be really worth while.

This was instigated by the Lewes branch in East Sussex in 1919, and enabled women to keep control over marketing, pricing and labelling their produce. After the First World War the British countryside increasingly became a site of leisure and pleasure for thousands of urban day trippers and holidaymakers, aided by the growth of cheap rail-fares and car ownership.

Although the development of rural tourism led to serious urban-rural conflict over the ownership and utilization of land, some in the countryside saw it as an opportunity domesticity and motherhood in the uk 1919 1939 exploit a lucrative ready market.

Readers were invited to communicate their own entrepreneurship and, have we have seen, did so enthusiastically. Their letters suggest that women were eager to show their role went beyond a narrowly defined domestic one, that they took pride in their work and they wanted to share their knowledge and experience with other readers.

Diversification schemes were often skilled and physical, required business acumen and technical knowledge, and made a valuable contribution to farm income at a time of severe economic strain. Rearing of small animals, food production and sale, and the provision of accommodation could be categorized by the home pages as legitimate work for married women to undertake, which did not take them away from the farmhouse except occasionally to market and could be performed as an addition to, not instead of, domestic labour.

Although these articles underplayed the threat to the segregation of gender roles, they did go some way to subvert the dominant domestic ideology of the period.