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Feminism of Woman Teachers in the First Half of the 20th Century

von Iw Marinkovic (Autor) Hannes Alter (Autor)
Hausarbeit 2000 29 Seiten


Table of contents


1. Definition of "equality and new feminism"

2. Feminist Organizations

3. Legislation or "a substitute for change"

4. The NUSEC Executive Committee Split or the "Fall of the Feminist Empire"

5. Negative Historical Assessments or "taking another view at the movement"



From the mid-19th century up to the outbreak of the war in August 1914 the suffrage campaign had attained the size and the status of a mass movement, riveting the attention of the British public. During the wartimes the activities of suffragists came to a halt, and a new, “domestic ideology“[1] emerged. When in early 1918 the Parliament granted the vote for women over the age of thirty, as a gesture of recognition for women’s contribution to the war effort, British feminists felt the neccessity to fight for a deeper, a more essential reformation in society. New feminist organizations were created, laws improving the status of mothers were passed and a passionate debate over the nature of feminism had begun. “But by 1930 feminism seemed much less a threat to traditional structures”[2] than during the wartimes and the postwar period. How could it be that such a big movement like the suffrage campaign had been so powerful and finally disappeared, considering that “interwar feminism trapped women in the cult of domesticity from which earlier feminists had tried to free themselves”[3] ?

Why should a woman choose to enter the teaching profession in the first half of the twentieth century?

Teaching offered a large number of attractions as a job for women.

Professional teaching involved the notion of a career, a life's work after a specific training, open only to those of a sufficient academic capacity.


Teaching young children was said to be:

" of the best forms of reconstruction work. The care of the children

brings the teacher into closer touch with their mothers, who often come to her

for advice in any and every subject: thus she may be a means of furthering the

social betterment of the homes and the country."

(Students' Careers Association, Careers, p.15. Also see Board of Education, Training of Teachers, p.40)

Women teachers became confident because of their academic success, their professional aspirations and their teacher education, which gave them a sense that they were part of an elite, especially a part of a female elite[4].

Elementary and secondary school teachers were different in their routes into the teaching profession:

Women who taught in elementary schools usually came from the intelligent working class or the lower middle class and underwent their education in a training college while secondary school teachers usually came from middle class and were university educated.

Teachers served the state and thus aquired a recognised place in the public world.


"Teaching has always been thought of as an honourable profession in my

family. It was approved because it was a safer and more suitable

profession for girls than others were then thought to be; and also in the Welsh

and Nonconformist milieu from which I came it was respected for what it


(Miles, And Gladly Teach, p.37)

The teaching profession and career also included the promise of material benefits generally only available to men, of good pay and reasonable prospects for advancement.

Teaching was work of the brain, demanding and satisfying to the intellect[5]. All women teachers exercised some authority, if only over pupils, so they were in the relatively unusual position for a woman of exercising power and authority in a professional capacity.

Teaching gave women the oppurtunity to extend and use their education and intellectual powers.


"I thoroughly enjoyed teaching it (general science and biology), and I enjoyed

the intellectual challenge of something that was always new, were

always learning something and I used to go to courses and things...I started

liking learning when I was a prep school child and I always have."

(Interview with Miss Sarah Wainwright, 26 May 1989. Born 1914, entered

secondary school teaching 1937.)

The profession was not typically feminine, it involved notions of training, intellectual work, public service and some approximation to professional material rewards (rather "masculine service").


"The woman (teacher) among girls has the privilege of handing on to them the

keys to the intellectual treasuries where she has enriched herself, of setting

their feet in the paths which have led her to fruitful watch over the

birth and growth of the reasoning powers of her pupils and guide them to

intellectual victories, initiating them into the great fellowship of workers for


(E.J. Morley (ed.), Women Workers in Seven Professions. A survey of

their Economic Conditions and Prospects, London, Routledge 1914, p.36.

This study was undertaken for the Fabian Women's Group.)

But teaching was also associated with the feminine sphere of working with children and involvement in their nurturing and upbringing[6]. It offered an unequalled oppurtunity for National Service. The teaching profession gave women a status which was usually only attached to men's work, they served the state and the state recognized and acknowledged it.

Trained women teachers were confident in their achievements. They were academic, respectable, womanly and equal to men[7].

In teaching, women could build up their own professional identity, they identified as able and intellectual young women.

Families were usually proud when a member decided to become a teacher, the vast majority of teachers received some (financial) help from their families during their education.


"My father believed so much in education, that it was the only thing that

mattered, nothing else was of any value at all, that he gave me an enormous -

he gave me 2 pounds a week pocket money, before (I left school), which was

a lot of money as he earned 7 pounds a week. And I saved that, which made up

my grant for the first year. The grant covered half my fee; the rest I'd got in the


(Interview with Mrs Jenny Inchbold, 9 August 1989)

There was the idea of women teachers as "professional mothers": Because of the natural feminine sense of mother-love among women, the idea of teaching children as a kind of mothering, using on one hand the female teacher's natural maternal feelings, but uniting these with an informed, intellectual knowledge of child-development.

Women teachers as professional workers developed a strong political consciousness as feminists in the first half of the twentieth century[8].

They passionately fought for several aims, e.g. improvement of working conditions, equal pay, job security, promotion prospects, suffrage and an end to the marriage bar.

The suffrage movement consolidated women teachers' existing activities, linked them to the wider women's movement, and provided them with a broader political framework for their campaigns. But the achievement of the franchise was not a point of closure for women teachers; they had a continuing sense of the inequalities which affected themselves as teachers and women generally.

Because of the many advantages, attractions and possibilities the teaching profession offered a lot of young women intended to become teachers.

The "new feminism"-movement which came up during the wartimes also affected women teachers, they actively joined this "campaign" by engaging for women teachers' rights.

1. Definition of “equality and new feminism”

First of all, it has to be clarified who is meant by “equality feminists” and who by “new feminists”. When we talk about “equality feminists” we talk about a group of feminists concentrating on equal opportunities for women, e.g. having the same rights and possibilities as men, seeking to eliminate sex role differences. “New feminists”, on the other hand, are a group of feminists promoting “reforms related to women’s special concerns , especially those involving motherhood”. For them, based on sexual difference, women’s needs are different from men’s and the notion of two separate spheres becomes important[9].

To understand the distinction between both of them, we have to take a look on the assumptions underlying those principles. “New feminists accused equality feminists of seeking to become like men, of adopting male values and priorities. Equality feminists warned that new feminists placed a dangerous insistence on women’s natures, which encouraged traditional notions of femaleness, thereby making it harder for women to escape from traditional roles. Whereas new feminists referred to maternity as the most important of women’s occupations, equality feminists stressed the common humanity of men and women, not their differences in order to move toward what now could be called a gender-neutral society.”[10]

"Equality feminism" of women teachers involved a number of claims for equal rights for women and men teachers.

"Equality feminism" refers to the assertion of women's right to be treated as equal citizens in exactly the same way as men.

Women teachers fought for equal pay, since they did not enjoy identical pay as men teachers.

Teachers were the first women workers to develop and sustain a demand for equal pay. They tried to justify their claim by stating that salaries should reflect the training, qualifications and expertise of the professional worker rather than their gender[11].


"The prospective teacher (man or woman) was required, before he or she was

trained for their profession, to pass through the same period of probation, through the same number of years of training, at the same cost and the same

qualifying examinations, certified each as a teacher. When trained and appointed to their positions in the schools they worked under exactly the same conditions of employment, their working hours were the same, their holidays were the same, and the work they did was the same, while the tests applied were also the same. Finally, the same grants were applied by the Board of Education in respect of the work of both. (Applause) From a professional point of view, therefore, which was a point she wished to put forward, men and women were alike in every respect - (laughter) - except in regard to salary."

(Schoolmaster, 6 April 1918, p.430. The same set of arguments against sex differentiation was used by the NFWT in its memorandum to the Board of Education's Departmental Committee on salaries.)

So women teachers did the same work as their male colleagues and were described by the same job titles, but were paid only 75-80 per cent of the male rate.

The issue of "equal pay for equal work" (equal pay for men and women teachers) was publicly debated during the war, but the family wage principle (family wage = fair wage for a man) allowed to deflect the calls for equal pay[12].

The family wage principle was based upon the idea that a man teacher was seen as the family breadwinner and therefore had to earn a family wage sufficient to support his wife and children while a woman teacher was characterised by having only herself to support, but this was not common, because almost all women teachers had financial responsibility for relatives or dependants.


"...teachers of my generation and a bit older than I am, would probably be the

unmarried one of the family. As they'd gone into teaching they couldn't get

married, well if they got married they couldn't teach, whereas perhaps the

brother and sister had gone off and got married, so they, the unmarried one,

had to look after Mum. This happened quite a lot."

(Interview with Miss May Griffins, 23 March 1989. Born 1919, elementary


This sometimes meant financial hardship, so a single woman teacher could not usually afford to employ a housekeeper, increasing the duties alongside the financial and emotional stress. Some married women were, apart from the responsibilities for their dependant relatives, also obliged to be family breadwinners[13].


[1] Smith, 1996, p.47

[2] ibid, p.47

[3] S. Kingsley Kent, 1988, p.237

[4] Oram, 1996, p.33

[5] ibid., p.16

[6] Oram, 1996, p.14

[7] ibid., p.34

[8] Oram, 1996, p.1

[9] Smith, 1996, p.48

[10] ibid., p.48

[11] Oram, 1996, p.125

[12] Oram, 1996, p.59

[13] Oram, 1996, p.68


ISBN (eBook)
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Institution / Hochschule
Universität Kassel – Anglistics
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Titel: Feminism of Woman Teachers in the First Half of the 20th Century