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Women, service and self-actualization in inter-war Britain

Women, service and self-actualization in inter-war Britain
Women, service and self-actualization in inter-war Britain
This article challenges historians’ concentration on the self in the interwar years with relation to elite women’s lives. It argues that the focus on the interior self has both diminished the importance of service in constructions of women’s identities between the wars, and overlooked how ideas of service were changing in this period to accommodate new thinking about women’s personal psychological development. The argument is developed in the context of four broader contemporary debates: the redrawing of late-Victorian ideas of goodness, social purpose and happiness by university-educated women in response to women’s professionalization; second-generation suffragists’ critiques of women’s family roles and sex; interwar debates about mass democracy and the ‘voluntary citizen’; and the purpose of women’s voluntary organizations. Readdressing writings by celebrated figures Vera Brittain, Winifred Holtby, Elizabeth Macadam and Maude Royden alongside women who have received less attention — Violet Butler, Lettice Fisher, Grace Hadow, Emily Kinnaird and Christine Jope-Slade — the article examines how educated and elite women recalibrated service in the years after the First World War to emphasize the mutuality of self-fulfilment and community development, not self-sacrifice or the neglect of the self. My focus is on the intellectual, moral and psychological tensions women confronted in this process. The article’s contribution is in its retrieval of service as a vehicle for negotiating competing ideas of the interwar feminine self, in which feminist perspectives on self-reliance and personal initiative were tested by forms of women’s self-expression in conformity with social and spiritual models of companionship and inter-personal encounter.
0031-2746
197-232
Colpus, Eve
9bc68e3e-325f-40c8-893d-d302577c07e7
Colpus, Eve
9bc68e3e-325f-40c8-893d-d302577c07e7

Colpus, Eve (2018) Women, service and self-actualization in inter-war Britain. Past and Present, 238 (1), 197-232. (doi:10.1093/pastj/gtx053).

Record type: Article

Abstract

This article challenges historians’ concentration on the self in the interwar years with relation to elite women’s lives. It argues that the focus on the interior self has both diminished the importance of service in constructions of women’s identities between the wars, and overlooked how ideas of service were changing in this period to accommodate new thinking about women’s personal psychological development. The argument is developed in the context of four broader contemporary debates: the redrawing of late-Victorian ideas of goodness, social purpose and happiness by university-educated women in response to women’s professionalization; second-generation suffragists’ critiques of women’s family roles and sex; interwar debates about mass democracy and the ‘voluntary citizen’; and the purpose of women’s voluntary organizations. Readdressing writings by celebrated figures Vera Brittain, Winifred Holtby, Elizabeth Macadam and Maude Royden alongside women who have received less attention — Violet Butler, Lettice Fisher, Grace Hadow, Emily Kinnaird and Christine Jope-Slade — the article examines how educated and elite women recalibrated service in the years after the First World War to emphasize the mutuality of self-fulfilment and community development, not self-sacrifice or the neglect of the self. My focus is on the intellectual, moral and psychological tensions women confronted in this process. The article’s contribution is in its retrieval of service as a vehicle for negotiating competing ideas of the interwar feminine self, in which feminist perspectives on self-reliance and personal initiative were tested by forms of women’s self-expression in conformity with social and spiritual models of companionship and inter-personal encounter.

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More information

Accepted/In Press date: 17 February 2017
e-pub ahead of print date: 23 January 2018
Published date: 1 February 2018
Organisations: History

Identifiers

Local EPrints ID: 407543
URI: https://eprints.soton.ac.uk/id/eprint/407543
ISSN: 0031-2746
PURE UUID: 06978590-04df-414d-a644-bca233ed2aae

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Date deposited: 13 Apr 2017 01:08
Last modified: 20 Jul 2019 05:16

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Author: Eve Colpus

University divisions

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