“What to Do with the Girls?” The Legacy of Women Farm Workers in Britain, 1919–1939

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
Bonnie White Memorial University of Newfoundland

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In the aftermath of World War I, public concerns about the “female surplus” promoted various efforts to stimulate women’s emigration to the dominions in order to relieve the presumed burden on the postwar economy. Opportunities for women in agriculture were part of the campaign to relocate women for work, but the plan soon encountered challenges from domestic groups that objected to the “dumping” of “surplus” females in the dominions and argued that, although farming in Britain experienced a decline in the 1920s, there were opportunities for women who wished to work in agriculture. This article examines the legacy of women agricultural workers in postwar Britain and argues that, although emigration efforts ultimately failed, the new farm woman of the 1920s and 1930s was presented as an educated professional, with evocations of traditional womanhood, making her an acceptable, nonconfrontational, progressive British woman worker by the outbreak of World War II.

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