In this lecture I will consider women’s changing role in post-war Britain. I will focus on women’s changing employment patterns and working lives, and discuss the reasons for these. I will also examine women’s participation in, and instigation of, labour activism and the reasons for this. I will suggest that women acted as agents of change in a number of ways. First, as mothers, they used their earnings to help children remain in education and thus help to explain why their children’s generation experienced greater levels of upward social mobility. Second, as workers within the welfare state, they helped to shape post-war state provision primarily, but not exclusively, as teachers. Third, younger women played a crucial role in white-collar labour activism. In this way, they challenge the stereotype of white-collar workers as experiencing “embourgoisement” or being deferential in and beyond the workplace. Their militancy testifies to a new sense of political and social entitlement imbued by the welfare state.


Selina Todd is Professor of Modern History at the University of Oxford, UK. Her publications include three books: Young Women, Work, and Family in England 1918–1950 (Oxford 2005), which won the Women’s History Network Book Prize; The People: The Rise and Fall of the Working Class 1910–2010 (London 2014), which was shortlisted for Political History Book of the Year and has been translated into Korean, Japanese, Catalan and Spanish; and Tastes of Honey: The Making of Shelagh Delaney and a Cultural Revolution (London 2019). She is currently finishing a history of social mobility in modern Britain, which will be published in 2020.