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Militant Maids vs. Selfish Suffragettes? Reflections on Writing a Feminist Labour History

Event type
Women's History
Event dates
, 5:15PM - 7:15PM
IHR Pollard Seminar Room, N301, Third Floor, IHR, Senate House, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HU
Laura Schwartz (Warwick )
020 7862 8740

In the early twentieth century, women fought for the right to professional employment and political influence outside the home. Yet if liberation from household 'drudgery' meant employing another woman to do it, where did this leave domestic servants? Both inspired and frustrated by the growing feminist movement, servants began forming their own trade unions, demanding better conditions and rights at work. 

In this paper Laura Schwartz will discuss her new book Feminism and the Servant Problem: Class and Domestic Labour in the Women's Suffrage Movement (Cambridge University Press, 2019), reflecting on the process of writing across two, sometimes antagonistic, historiographies. Schwartz suggests that a focus on the history of domestic workers' organising challenges traditional narratives of British labour history; while also calling for greater attention to the material conditions that generated class conflict between women and within 'first wave' feminism.

Laura Schwartz is Associate Professor of Modern British History at the University of Warwick. She is a historian of British feminism and labour movements, whose publications include Infidel Feminism: Secularism, Religion and Women's Emancipation, England 1830-1914 (Manchester University Press, 2013) and A Serious Endeavour: Gender, Education and Community at St Hugh's, 1886-2011 (Profile Books, 2011).