Housing, Health and Education: women's activism in post-war Scotland

In the existing historiography of feminism and the women’s movement in Scotland there is a silence on the immediate post war decades before the emergence of second wave feminism in the early 1970s. Traditionally feminism is characterised in waves with the first wave being the campaign for the enfranchisement of women in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The interwar years are often seen as a conservative period in which there was a backlash against women’s involvement in public life and women returned to domesticity. Women’s and gender historians have argued effectively that this was not the case and that in the 1920s and 1930s there was a new emphasis on ‘active citizenship’ for women in a full range of women’s organisations of all political persuasions, with women becoming involved in campaigns for female equality and for social improvements. The immediate post war decades in Scotland are similarly caricatured as conservative in terms of gender relations and expectations, with radical demands for social change only emerging in the late 1960s with second wave feminism emerging as a result. Yet, just as there was continuity in the work of women’s organisation in the 1920s and 1930s after the partial enfranchisement of women, this paper will suggest the same was true from the mid-1940s to the late 1960s. There was obviously circumstantial change in some of the issues prioritised by women’s organisations in these post-war years. But there was also a definite continuity in women’s activism, especially in the areas of housing, health and education, even if this was not as radical as what was to come in the 1970s.