Women teachers in state schools in England and Wales 1900-1939 : the development of feminist allegiance and political strategies
Women teachers working In local authority elementary and secondary schools from the turn of the century to the Second World War were heavily engaged in political activity concerning their own position as women in teaching. This thesis investigates the reasons for women teachers' strong feminist allegiance and the strategies which they used to pursue their aims. Women teachers were politicised as feminists by experiencing tensions within the structures and meanings of their working and personal lives. In particular, the stresses and tensions between two identities, that of the professional teacher and that of the feminine woman, coupled with their experiences within the teachers' professional associations and the influence of the suffrage movement, meant that both elementary and secondary school teachers became increasingly receptive to feminist ideas in the years before the First World War. It is further argued that the particular process of politicisation had effects on the type of feminist politics and strategies that women teachers espoused. The dual elements of professionalism and femininity are analogous to the major philosophical strands within feminism of 'equality' and 'difference'. Feminist women teachers preferred to emphasise the former, and developed a political rhetoric of equal gender-free professionalism rather than one which highlighted their 'difference' as women. The teachers offer an important case study in assessing the utility of either feminist approach in the interwar period of gender antagonism and crisis of masculinity. Women teachers' position as both women and professionals was particularly difficult in relation to their marital status. They were predominantly single in a period in which marriage and motherhood signified full adult femininity. In this area, feminist politics fed back into teachers' personal lives, providing a defence of their position as spinsters and offering new forms of women's community adapted to the twentieth century.