Dr Lyndsey Jenkins Lecture on Post War Labour Women MPs

Lyndsey Jenkins lecture based on her forthcoming book on Labour Women MPs in the period from
Attlee to Thatcher included the names not just of well known figures like Jennie Lee and Barbara
Castle but less well known figures at a time when female MPs never reached more than 4% of the
House but in 1945 Labour had more women MPs with 21 than they would have again until 1987! In
an era when all consumers coped with rationing these exceptional women stressed their role as
housewives to find common ground as citizens with other voters. These politicians stressed the
tough struggles of austerity Britain, shortages of baby clothes, the queues for food, the carrying of
shopping on the bus and the struggles with exhausting housework long before the labour saving
devices associated with consumerist Britain. They used the same rhetoric that recognized the skills
of the housewife that are so often associated with the success of Mrs Thatcher in 1970’s and ‘80’s.
Lyndsey’s lecture also described the barriers these women faced in a 96% male House of Commons.
As well as a disrespectful press, a Speaker who often failed to give them the opportunity to speak
the Labour Party seldom gave them safe seats to contest so they had to excellent campaigners.
Unlike the pioneering first women MPs 1919-39 these women in the era of National Health Service
spoke about the issues around pain relief for childbirth and were not afraid to refer to their own
experiences. Although not using the language of the Feminists MPs of a later era they raised the
issue of respect for mothers and housewives as equal contributors to society. They also campaigned
for equal pay for professional women. As usual once the lecture ended a lot of lively questions
ensued on this clearly neglected party of Labour’s History and the Bristol HA is really looking forward
to Dr Jenkins forthcoming book.

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