Women members and witnesses on British government ad hoc committees of inquiry 1850-1930, with special reference to royal commissions of inquiry
The thesis describes the participation of women as witnesses and members of British government committees of inquiry during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It examines this participation both from the point of view of the women concerned and of the administrations which appointed them. It seeks to establish that such committee work was a form of political activity for individual women; and, by indicating the extent of the organisations and networks which linked these and similar women, demonstrates the existence of a small group of women working within the political elite who collaborated in the shaping of certain aspects of public policy during this time. The thesis also considers the institutional implications of women's membership of committees by examining governmental and civil service attitudes to their appointments. It attempts to uncover how and why women were chosen, and argues that women's committee participation was instrumental in the formation of ideas about women's political work. In committees women became established as an interest group to be represented in the same way and in much the same proportions as other class or professional groupings. They thus achieved representation through interest rather than through equity, which contributed to enduring precedents for their subsequent political roles after they were granted the franchise. I examine the work of women on committees as the committee form itself evolved to incorporate them and other groups from within and outside the elite social classes, providing a means by which the political nation could expand through slight changes in existing forms. Appointment to an advisory committee is not commonly seen as political representation, but during the proliferation of such committees through the nineteenth century, it offered a means of participation in political life for some of those denied direct representation through the franchise. In Britain women began to be appointed to such committees some thirty years before they were granted a limited franchise in 1918. Through the committee form women were offered a representative voice in a growing but clearly delimited range of issues that were deemed to concern them, broadly within education, social welfare, and employment. However, their achievements were limited both by their confinement to such issues, and by their consistently low numbers on committees. The thesis concludes that women's committee participation was fixed at almost the same time as it began, and that the period of women's most decisive involvement with this form was during the years between about 1908 and the early 1920s.