Social History - women in the 1930's - their role

(26 Posts)
onetiredfromthesugarhighmummy Tue 15-Apr-14 17:24:51

Sorry if this is a little off topic.

I'm writing a book & I have no grandparents left to check my understanding with & Google isn't that helpful. I'm thinking of the pre war 30's.

I have a female character who is 15 in 1937.

In the 1930's did women leave school at 14 or so? Did they then work until they found a husband & then stopped working? What kind of social life did they have? Where would they meet a husband?

Many thanks for replies. I thought I'd put in here rather than Chat as posters who frequent this board may have more knowledge.

Custardo Tue 15-Apr-14 17:30:45

i think this would much depend on the class of woman you are talking about

working class northern would most likley be working and meet a beau at a dance

nowts changed then smile

Custardo Tue 15-Apr-14 17:33:35
Custardo Tue 15-Apr-14 17:34:48
Grennie Tue 15-Apr-14 17:35:02

Yes it does depend on class. My gran was 20 then. She had left school and worked first of all in a dairy in a fram, then in a small bakers shop selling bread and cakes. She loved going to the dancing, and met her Husband there. Once married and quickly pregnant, she gave up work until the youngest child started school, and then she worked various part time jobs such as a cleaner in a pub and in private posh houses.

onetiredfromthesugarhighmummy Tue 15-Apr-14 17:36:15

Thanks custy, I was thinking of middle class. No particular location.

(I do remember my Yorkshire grandma telling me that in the 40's she used to arrange to meet boys outside the cinema on her bus route, if she didn't like the look of them she would just stay on the bus & go home) grin

napoleonsnose Tue 15-Apr-14 17:37:37

I wrote my undergrad dissertation on middle class women during this period. One book I found really useful was the tie in to a BBC series of the 80s called 'Out of the Dolls House' by Angela Holdsworth. Its always on Amazon for about a penny and has loads of recollections from women at the time. Can also recommend Deidre Beddoe's 'Back to Home and Duty' which gives an excellent social history into the lives of women in the interwar period.

onetiredfromthesugarhighmummy Tue 15-Apr-14 17:38:27

Sorry Grennie I x posted, working in a shop sounds very promising!

Thanks for the links as well smile

onetiredfromthesugarhighmummy Tue 15-Apr-14 17:40:32

I've bought it napoleon, thanks smile

Preciousbane Tue 15-Apr-14 17:44:32

My Mother was born in 1926 and left school at 14. Her Dad was a sergeant Major in the army and her Mum was a bus driver. My Mother was a bit of a one and climbing out her bedroom window to meet boys at 14, she was WC.They did live in a nice 3 bed semi.

Lizzylou Tue 15-Apr-14 17:45:03

Not middle class, but I am currently reading Debs at War by Anna De Courcy, it's fab, really interesting first hand accounts of the 1939-1945 period and how lives were changed.

TheWanderingUterus Tue 15-Apr-14 18:01:19

Elizabeth Roberts A Woman's place is good too. Diary of a provincial lady by delafield gives an idea.

Szreter and Fisher have some good academic books (but accessible) about sex marriage and relationships. Sex before the sexual revolution by Szreter and Fisher and also Fisher wrote one by herself: Birth Control Sex and marriage which is excellent. Middle class women had a very different life to the majority of women.

Both of my grandmothers were middle class teenagers in the 30s. Both left school at 14, one went to work in a shop, one went to secretarial school. Neither of them married until after the war but stopped work until the children were older in both cases.

I'm doing my PhD on 30s women, but it's more sex and psychiatry than social history.

Apologies for all the formatting mistakes, I am on the Ipad.

napoleonsnose Tue 15-Apr-14 18:01:32

This is also an excellent thesis written on middle-class girls and leisure in 20s and 30s Liverpool which you can download for free from the British Library's theses online. A Goole search will bring the page up.

Sharon Messenger - The life-styles of young middle-class women in Liverpool in the 1920s and 1930s (Unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Liverpool, 1998)

napoleonsnose Tue 15-Apr-14 18:02:50

Or even better, a Google search!

CaptChaos Tue 15-Apr-14 18:14:21

My darling Granny was 15 in 1930. She left school after she matriculated and then trained as nurse. She had to give up her training as she kept fainting due to not eating enough. She then had a rare old time, driving about visiting friends etc until she met my Grandfather. Then they went abroad. She never worked, but she did lots of voluntary work and ran a mess for officers on RnR from the African Front during WW2.

Her family were extremely well off though, so she didn't need to work, women of her class didn't, especially after they married. They tended to do 'good works'

Sorry it's anecdata, but it might be useful to you?

My grandmother left school at 14 (she was born in 1928) to be apprenticed as a dressmaker. She married my grandfather at the age of 20 and during the war she worked in a munitions factory. After the war she became a typical middle-class housewife with three children.

I don't know for sure, but she once took me to visit her home town in mid Wales and showed me her 'two up two down' house. So I don't think she would have been middle class. Her father was in a wheelchair, injured in WWI. I don't know what income they had.

Hope that's helpful?

MillyMollyMama Tue 15-Apr-14 19:03:07

My Mum was born in 1924 and went to a grammar school age 10 - a year early. She was clever! However she was the only one in her vast extended family to go and, as a girl, her intelligence was not valued. My grandfather was a tenant farmer and my Mum had a huge range of jobs to do on the farm as well as school work. She had to walk a mile to the station to get the train to school every day. She went to the grammar school in 1934 and after 5 years my grandfather made her leave school and leave home. She was enlisted as a nursing assistant at the local hospital and lived in the nurses hostel. After 2 years, she started nurse training at St James's, Balham, just in time for the bombs to be dropped in London. She became a midwife going out to deliver babies - a bit like Call the Midwife! She celebrated VE Day outside Buckingham Palace. In London there were dances and a few of the nurses met husbands. Social life was very little because the wages were subsistence level. Mum had 10 shillings a week after lodging and meal payments were deducted. She had to save up to get home!

At the end of the war, she worked for a bit in a children's home as a live in housemother and then became a Landgirl! She met my Dad who was the eldest son of the farmer. My Dad's wife had died and they married in 1952. She then had me and stopped working. This is what nearly everyone did because there was no help in the house, no car available and everything took so long to do - housework, washing, shopping, cooking, baby etc. Mostly unmarried ladies worked.

My Mum never had the opportunity to go to University. Despite going to a grammar school. There is a myth that the grammar schools sent all their pupils to University. They did not. The only ones that went had rich or enlightened parents. Everyone else got a job! My mother's intelligence was not valued by her family who could not see that her earning power would be much greater with a degree. It would be unthinkable now that she did not go to University! She also did as she was told. Not just by her Father, but in taking "wartime" jobs too. She felt she had to do her bit. By contrast, my Mother in Law escaped London and carried on working as a secretary in leafy Hertfordshire. Some did their bit and others did not! The farming industry, like every other industry, was gripped by the Great Depression and girls were not valued because the work was needed for men. My grandfather was poorly educated and only valued work, not education. My Mum always wins quizzes at the WI! She is still extremely bright, aged 90! Enjoy your research!

LaVolcan Tue 15-Apr-14 19:09:58

My mother was 15 in 1937. I would also say that they were fairly comfortable middle class. She left school at 14 and then went to a business college to learn shorthand and typing. I am not exactly sure when she started work - it would have been either 1937 or '38 and was paid 12/6 a week. She then worked throughout the war, but was in a steel works in the office, so didn't get called up. She continued to work for a while after getting married to dad in 1948 but gave up sometime before my brother was born. Those in the Civil service had to give up on marriage I think. She never did paid work again - and thought it was something of a crime for me and SIL to continue working after having children.

As for where people would meet - they met at an operatic society, but previous boyfriends had been met at Church events, or another was a family friend, but also I think the families met via Church. So pretty much where middle class people would meet now, I think - church clubs, evening classes, tennis clubs if you were sporty, work sometimes.

Looking back, I would say that the 'comfortable' bit was the key. In fact, thinking about it, the next door neighbour's daughter didn't go out to work at all, until during the war - she just stayed at home to help her mother! Unthinkable now.

MooncupGoddess Tue 15-Apr-14 19:10:41

Middle class covers a wide spectrum, what sort of background are you giving your character? My grandmother and great-aunt stayed at school until 18 and went to university and art college respectively, but I'm guessing they were in a tiny minority.

All women gave up work on marriage, I think - teachers were legally obliged to!

LaVolcan Tue 15-Apr-14 19:18:22

MillyMolly & all - very few girls went to University, even if they went to grammar school - primary school teaching, nursing, possibly junior grades of the civil service, is what they did. Work was seen as something of a stop gap until their real career of marriage began and for a middle class married woman to work was taken as being a sign that your husband couldn't afford to keep you.

FairPhyllis Tue 15-Apr-14 19:25:46

The Cazalet novels by Elizabeth Jane Howard might give you some more ideas - the family in them are more at the upper middle end of the spectrum for that time. Most of the girls in the family are educated by a governess (some at private day schools I think) and then do things like cookery courses or get jobs in London.

My grandmother was a little younger than your character, but she left school at 14 and started a job as a technical draftsman in an architect's office. I know she lived in a room in a boarding house while working and had a fire she used to cook her dinner on in the room. She turned 18 during the war but wasn't called up as she was in reserved occupation, and she was a firewatcher as well because you had to do something for the war effort.

Socially I think she used to go out to the pictures and to dances - she wouldn't have belonged to a political party, but that might have been a way people would have met each other then. She went out with pretty much every serviceman stationed on the south coast in the build up to D Day as far as I can tell. She met my grandfather after the war working in the same office - they used to stand at the same bus stop together after work. Not sure if she left work as soon as she got married.

After she had her first baby she became a housewife for a long time but she did some bookkeeping jobs for local businesses and did an OU degree.

I don't think very early marriage was necessarily the norm for working class women - my grandmother was 25 when she married and I think my great grandmother was older.

FairPhyllis Tue 15-Apr-14 19:33:02

By the way Young Farmers clubs were around in the 30s - that would have been another people would have met each other (well in the countryside anyway).

onetiredfromthesugarhighmummy Tue 15-Apr-14 19:44:20

Wow thanks for the incredible response! I know now how & where she will meet the man... smile

weatherall Tue 15-Apr-14 20:04:30

My Nana was 18 then. As far as I know she worked in her parents' shop. She later worked in a train ticket office.

I think she met her husband at a dance but they never had kids.

In the 30s I think they didn't have an indoors toilet and filled up a bath with the kettle.

She lived in the same community as most of her extended community and was the youngest of 5 children. I think she did quite a bit of babysitting for her nieces and nephews.

EBearhug Tue 15-Apr-14 23:56:35

My grandparents were quite well off - my grandmother went to Cambridge (women didn't get degrees there till 1948, though.) My great aunts also had some form of higher education, but their father expected them to do subjects suitable for girls, so things like dairying, nutrition, botany.

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