Tag Archives: Women’s Unionist Organisation

Conservative Women After Suffrage (Part Three): Resources for further study

It may be impossible to provide a comprehensive listing of resources in the Archive related to women and the Party, but following our previous posts we thought it might be useful to highlight some key areas and resources for users interested in the subject.

Key areas to investigate before suffrage include the Primrose League, trade organisations and other satellites of the Party. After 1918, the Women’s Unionist Organisation (later the Women’s National Advisory Committee in various manifestations) handled a great deal of educational and canvassing issues; it also organised an annual Women’s Conference. The majority of this material is held in CCO 170, including:

  • Minutes, 1935-1965 [CCO 170/1]
  • General Purposes Committee minutes, 1944-1951 [CCO 170/1]
  • Outside Organisations Subcommittee minutes, 1944-1977 [CCO 170/1]
  • Parliamentary Subcommittee minutes, 1946-1948 [CCO 170/1]
  • Annual Conference handbooks, 1939-1991 [CCO 170/3]
  • Other papers, c1928-1986 [CCO 170]

There is also some information in the area files relating to individual committees Area level records:

  • Greater London: Minutes, 1966-1986 [ARE 1/11]
  • North West Minutes, 1933-1953 [ARE 3/11]
  • Midland: Minutes, 1887-1890; 1947 [ARE MU 11]
  • West Midlands: Minutes, 1925-1982 [ARE 6/11]
  • Eastern: Minutes, 1920-1984 [ARE 7/11]
  • South East: Minutes, 1920-1976 [ARE 9/11]
  • Wessex: Minutes, 1920-1962 [ARE 11/11]

As mentioned previously, the WUO/WNAC was responsible for a number of publications, some of which are available in the CPA:

  • Home & Politics, 1922-1929 [PUB 212]
  • Home Truths, 1949-1951 [PUB 146]
  • Madam Chairman, 1957-1966 [PUB 136]
  • Onward (with a ‘lady’s page’), 1953-57 [PUB 215]

Some material is held elsewhere in the Archive, among the papers of other committees or meetings:

  • Organisation Department papers on the WNAC, 1946-1968 [CCO 500/9]
  • Chairman’s Office papers on women’s organisations/conference, 1962-1971 [CCO 20/36]
  • Various files in the CCO Filing Registry, 1948-1975 [CCO 4]

A few other individual files may also be useful. PUB 244 has now been created for women’s organisation publications, and there are a handful among the publications of other groups. PUB 182/4, for instance, contains Hats Off! … to Conservative Women, by Elizabeth Hodder (1990). CCO 500/1/5, Chamberlain’s reports on CCO reorganisation, mentions the Women’s Department and the changes to women’s organising (1930s). The Conservative Agents’ Journal [PUB 2-13] can be trawled for its various references to women’s roles in the Party.

The papers of Lady Emmet and Lady Young, although not contained in their entirety within the CPA, are also particularly illustrative of a Tory woman’s career. Some of Lady Emmet’s papers are contained within those of the International Department (CCO 507) and Lady Young’s within CCO 60 (uncatalogued). Further collections of Lady Emmet’s papers can be found in the Bodleian via the Special Collections Reading Room.

Of course, there are many other resources, both within the Bodleian Libraries and without, that may help researchers in women’s history in the Conservative Party. A quick search on SOLO (our catalogue tool) for ‘women “conservative party”’ turns up 48 items. And although their material is often designed with school curricula in mind, the National Archives have some particularly interesting document links on their education pages.

If you have any questions about our material, or indeed think we’ve missed anything in this short guide, do get in touch with us; click on the ‘About Me’ tab to access our email information.

Conservative Women after Suffrage (Part Two): Women in the Party

Women’s organising was an evident part of party politics from the inception of the Primrose League in the 1880s. The Ladies’ Grand Council, set up in 1885, allowed thousands of women (generally upper-class) to participate in canvassing and other political work. Women’s organisations outside the official workings of the Party itself flourished throughout the first two decades of the 20th century. Other distinctly political organisations such as the Women’s Tariff Reform Association (founded in 1905) provided a concrete way for women to enter the political arena, but the organisations and their participants were often relegated to a ‘quiet’ role and kept behind the scenes.

When women over 30 were granted the vote in 1918, the Party restructured itself to encompass these already-established women’s groups. The first Conservative women’s organisation – the Women’s Unionist Organisation – was founded in 1918/1919. Not only were women now allowed to play a real and tangible role in political organisation, the Qualification of Women Bill allowed female MPS; three female Conservative MPs took office in the first four years after the Bill, in 1919 (Lady Astor), 1921 (Margaret Wintringham) and 1923 (Mabel Hilton Philipson). In fact, the Party was concerned at the 1921 Conference that it not be seen to lag behind the Labour and Liberal Parties in putting forward female candidates (NUA 2/1/37, p. 31); Lady Astor, MP, responded by pointing out that women ‘are your great bulwark against Bolshevism’. George Younger remarked, ‘She is quite equal to it [working as an MP] … but she requires support’. 

A November 1931 photograph featuring the national women MPs on the terrace of the House of Commons. The women were being filmed for a ‘talkie’ film. From left to right: Lady Iveagh, Irene Ward, Thelma Cazalet-Keir, Mavis Tate, Ida Copeland, Lady Astor, Sarah Ward, Florence Horsbrough, Mary Pickford, the Duchess of Atholl, and Norah Runge. (Barratt’s; from the Conservative Party Archive Photograph Collection)

Not all factions of the party were comfortable with female participation. Some who supported suffrage and women’s rights pointed out that giving too much power to a separate women’s organisation in effect divided the Party to its detriment (see letter from ‘Darius’ – aka Robert Topping – in the Conservative Agents’ Journal, August 1922, p. 9, PUB 3/3). Others replied, ‘Women have become part and parcel of our organisation system, and that they are out to help us men, if we will only let them help us’ (letter from ‘B.M.’ in September 1922 issue, p. 20). Another writer stated, the success of mass politics ‘stands or falls on … whether or not there is a good women’s organisation in the constituency’ (CAJ, April 1923, p. 68). This argument continued throughout the 1920s, with regular articles in the Journal criticising the segregation of men and women. 

The Report of the Council to the Annual Conference indicates that a Women’s Conference was held in April 1921 in London. Elizabeth Hodder writes:

‘London under siege’ was how one Tory woman delegate described the Conservative Women’s Conference in 1921. Hatted women from all corners of the land packed to overflowing the largest hall available.

(PUB 182/4: Hats Off! …to Conservative Women, p. 8)

Empire was a significant issue in the first part of the century, and Viscountess Elvedeen, Chairman of that first Conference, spoke to the women of their focus on unity and equality:

Unionism sounds for unity, for the unity of our Empire, for that unity which alone makes for strengths, which stands for unity between classes, the greatest good for the greatest number, not the greatest good for any section of the community.

(Hats Off, p. 13)

In 1928, the conference and the Women’s National Advisory Committee were officially recognised by the Party; that year the Prime Minister addressed their Conference at Royal Albert Hall. The Countess of Iveagh told the 1928 Women’s Conference that the Women’s Unionist Organisation had a membership of over one million already (CCO 170/4/11, p. 5). We do know that the annual expenditure allowed to women’s organisation had increased by astronomical amounts; in 1924, the spending totaled £425, but by 1930 it had reached £3,800 (CCO 500/1/5).

The Women’s Unionist Organisation worked hard at bringing women into the political arena. It produced its own publication from 1921-1930, called Home and Politics. The journal proved far more popular than some of the men’s equivalents, and by 1928 its circulation had topped 2.5 million! The WUO/WNAC called for more women’s education and requested speakers from Central Office, particularly in areas such as economics. Women travelled to the Conservative Party College for training, and study groups formed throughout the country, offering courses on everything from canvassing to foreign policy.

[PUB 212]

Although it can be by no means said that the struggle of women for equal rights ended in the 1930s, by that decade Conservative women had fostered a groundswell of support and organisation. A report to Neville Chamberlain indicated that by 1931, ‘So great has been the advancement … it was decided to omit any provision as to the ratio of men and women representatives to be elected by the constituencies to the Conferences and Council’ (CCO 500/1/5). In 1939, the WNAC had over 1.5 million members, 474 Divisional Committees and well over one hundred paid organisers. They ran weekend courses, study schools, and other training sessions. Home and Politics had given way to Home and Empire, and they produced numerous other smaller publications. 

The 1958 Conservative Women’s Conference, held at Westminster. (Keystone Photos; from the Conservative Party Archive Photography Collection)

Gender equality may still be an issue in both the political and social sphere, but the Conservative Women’s Organisation (as it is known today) is still going strong after over 90 years. It provides a network for supporting women in the Party as well as encouraging campaigning and political activity, and it still holds an annual conference. More information about the Organisation’s current activities can be found at http://www.conservativewomen.org.uk.

Conservative Women after Suffrage (Part One): The Handbook for Women Organisers and Workers

This post is part of a three-part series that will provide brief insights into the changes in the party after the enfranchisement of women. This post, which takes an introductory look at the women’s organisations through the Handbook for Women Organisers and Workers, will be followed by an exploration of the ways in which women changed and used the Party’s organisational structure. A final post will provide some guidance on Archive material for further research.

While sorting files returned by one of our readers, we came across a 1928 Handbook for Women Organisers and Workers, published by the Women’s Unionist Organisation under the authority of the Conservative and Unionist Central Office. The Party produced quite a few of these sorts of guides, and they provide fascinating insights into the ways by which various facets of the Party worked.

By 1928, all women over the age of 21 could vote, and the Party was keen to attract what it saw as an enthusiastic but untapped segment of the electorate – as well as to show it was including women in its politics (see our post in two week’s time for more on the history of women in the Party). It was still the 1920s, however, and women often joined separate groups:

The Women’s Unionist Organisation formed in 1918/1919 (it became the Women’s National Advisory Committee in 1928); the Handbook states on its first page:

It is essential that the Conservative and Unionist Party should adopt every possible means to interest the women of the country in public affairs, and to ensure their close co-operation with men in political work. (PUB 190/5)

The Handbook also points out that women were often able to meet at different hours, preferred different issues (especially education), and were extraordinarily successful fundraisers.

The earlier 1925 edition of the Handbook (PUB 203) is slightly more anxious that women be educated in the political sphere. Suffrage was still an issue, and the book states that although ‘Increasing numbers of women are anxious to improve their political education … many women electors do not yet realise the importance of the vote and the responsibility it imposes.’ It goes on: ‘Experience has proved that amalgamated associations of men and women do not enable either section of the electorate to develop its full efficiency in constituency work.’

The Conservative (or Conservative and Unionist Party) was fairly well organised, and it supplied a great deal of literature for both men and women on running constituency organisations, elections and other events. The Handbook covers everything from keeping track of finances and canvassing to sample agendas and branch rules. It also includes advice on a number of miscellaneous projects, including Empire Day (women’s organisations were expected to organise something in celebration) and, most importantly for any good British organisation, tea. On page 83, the Handbook reads:

Tea is an established feature at almost all ordinary branch meetings, and most branches have a regular Tea Committee … Tea should not be given free … It should not be served during the address; and care should be taken not to interrupt the speaker or entertainer by the clashing of tea cups.

The importance of tea is not something to be laughed at, however, as many attribute the enormous success of the WUO to the social opportunities it provided. From tea to outings to educational opportunities, social occasions were an enjoyable way to meet candidates and proved successful fundraising and Party-building opportunities.

Next post: Women and Party Organization in 1910-1920

All images ©Conservative Party Archive Trust