British women’s access to the electorate in 1918 and 1928 triggered off a series of efforts to reach out to the new voters both on the part of political parties and of women’s groups. New organisations were created, the role of women’s sections within political parties was reassessed and a wealth of propaganda material was published at election times that specifically targeted women. While some of these efforts were avowedly aimed at mobilizing the female vote in favour of a political party or around an ideological (feminist) agenda, others were seemingly simply intended to arouse women’s interest in politics and educate them in their new citizenship. This was the case, in particular, of a number of handbooks that were published in the years that followed each electoral reform and that have so far been neglected by historians. This paper will seek to determine what representations of female citizenship these offered as well as what they really aimed at. Were these handbooks meant to advise women voters in their choices so as to obtain reforms advocated by the main women’s groups (whether feminist or not), direct their electoral choice under the pretence of educating them in citizenship or, indeed, simply encourage them to vote and act as responsible citizens? In this respect, differences between the first and the second electoral reforms will be observed and the difficulty of putting forward a clear-cut vision of female citizenship underlined. While contributing to the understanding of attitudes and action on the question of female citizenship, this will also provide additional insight into the nature of British feminism in the post-suffrage era and into how existing divisions between its different strands could occasionally be bridged.
Educating and Mobilizing the New Voter: Interwar Handbooks and Female Citizenship in Great-Britain, 1918-1931.
Journal of International Women's Studies, 15(1), 17-34.
Available at: http://vc.bridgew.edu/jiws/vol15/iss1/2