A Woman's World Time to Remember


A Woman's World

Newsreel and voiceover from the 50s series Time to Remember offer an insight into how women's roles in society changed through the first half of the 20th century.


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In the 1950s, the famous newsreel company, Pathe, produced

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a major historical documentary series for British television.

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Made by the award-winning producer Peter Baylis

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and narrated by an illustrious line-up of celebrated actors,

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Time To Remember chronicled the social, cultural and political forces

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that shaped the first half of the 20th century.

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The series contained several programmes that highlighted the shifting status of women.

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The details of the progress made towards equality during the era

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paint a vivid picture of a fascinating time.

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# Come into the garden, Maud

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# For the black bat, night, has flown

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# Come into the garden, Maud

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# I am here at the gate alone... #

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Things, faces, friends, places.

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Years and moments half-forgotten.

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Laughs, fears, songs, tears, memories are made of this.

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I remember a time, oh, so long ago.

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A time when women at last emerged from their shells,

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if that's the proper phrase, and took the bit between their teeth.

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And what a disturbance it made,

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but most of them wouldn't have missed it for the world.

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The role women played in British society was transformed during the first half of the 20th century.

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Back in 1900, women were politically disenfranchised and expected to defer,

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first to their fathers and later to their husbands.

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Slow, gentle, stately and reticent.

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And that description, by the way, happens to sum up how we women were supposed to be at the time.

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When unmarried or being courted, just beauty queens, gorgeous, decorative and dumb.

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When married, matronly and motherly.

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In either state, seen, admired, but not heard.

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History dictated that it was the other sex

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that was supposed to have all the brains, do all the thinking and voting.

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And how pompous the men were in their masculine authority.

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"I'm a self-made man and master in my own house,

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"and if my wife so much as... But she doesn't, she knows her place."

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Late Victorian women were constrained by rigid social conventions.

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"Ladies do not at any time swing on swings. On Sunday too.

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"Aggy Smith, tonight at supper, I shall speak to your father."

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But even while the Queen still lived, there were signs of change,

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signs of women breaking out of the prison of home and strict respectability.

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I ask you, mixed cycling! Oh, the country's going to the dogs, six at a time.

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The call for women's suffrage began to take hold during the reign of Queen Victoria,

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but by the time George V came to the throne in 1910, little real headway had been made.

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By 1911, there were quite a few women, the Pankhurst family among them,

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who were beginning to get restless with this state of affairs.

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Those chairs are being carried in to one of their early meetings.

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Not so many chairs,

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for then the suffragettes were few in number.

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Votes for women then seemed like reaching for the moon.

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How the world jeered and laughed at those first brave few.

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But undaunted, they girded up...well, whatever it was that women girded up in those days, and marched on,

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supremely confident in their ultimate victory.

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What did the politicians do about these female demonstrations? Little to nothing, I'm afraid.

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The British Prime Minister at the time was Mr Asquith

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and you know what he was famous for saying - "wait and see".

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Well to the fore was a fighting Welsh Liberal, David Lloyd George,

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but he was too busy with National Insurance and other schemes.

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One man was deeply sympathetic.

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George Lansbury was always battling for the Pankhursts.

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Strange, really, for they were anything but socialists, but then the cause rose above party politics.

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Yet whatever support the suffragettes found or didn't find, each fresh opening of the British Parliament

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saw their case either off the agenda or so near the bottom as to make no difference.

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Votes for women, indeed.

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Things like naval estimates were much more important.

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This struggle for women's voting rights was being played out

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against the backdrop of social unrest across the country.

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Britain was a deeply class-riven society, with huge disparities of wealth, living conditions and power.

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The momentum was building for social reforms across class and gender.

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The fight for suffrage was symptomatic of this rejection of the old order.

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1912, and the suffragettes still on the march

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but, by now, the ranks have indeed swelled

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and thousands of Aunt Agathas go forward together to battle for female emancipation.

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By now, they have the support of the universities and the intellectuals,

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and the movement knows no division of class or privilege,

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for in it are the lowest and the highest.

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And being the pioneers, the whole world has its eye on them.

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March on, brave women of Britain, you've nothing to lose but your chains.

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Always in history, it is the pioneers who suffer for ultimate victory.

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By 1913, the cause was becoming more strident,

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with some factions of the movement adopting a more militant approach.

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A nation wondering what the world is coming to looks on anxiously

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as, in great mass meetings, the women present their case forcefully.

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Now comes a parting of the ways,

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for while some still preach gradual change, others demand war to the knife,

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insist that all's fair in the fight for female rights.

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For the militant, the war moves into the streets.

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Everywhere, suffragettes throw stones, shout,

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chain themselves to railings and resist everything including arrest.

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Off to jail they go in their hundreds, there to endure hunger strikes and then forced feedings.

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Votes for women.

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The houses of leading political opponents go up in flames.

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By any means, foul as well as fair, is the battle fought.

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Then comes the day of the Derby at Epsom in 1913,

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as always attended by the King and Queen and enthusiastic thousands.

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The race starts like any other,

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but when the horses reach Tattenham Corner, there comes a shock.

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A woman runs out.

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There is a fall.

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The King's horse and Emily Davison lie on the turf.

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Suffragette Emily Davison is out of the race for good.

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Poor, brave little Emily.

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It has been said that suffering from some incurable disease, she was doomed to die anyway.

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But that does not detract from her courage in hurling herself

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under pounding hooves to demonstrate that even weak women can die for a cause.

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Slow march for Emily Davison.

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And so the world enjoys its last summer of peace, unaware for the most part that Armageddon awaits,

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unaware that the death of poor little Emily Davison is just one more nail in the coffin of the old order.

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For war or no war, the suffragettes continue to march

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and dear Aunt Agatha continues to sit it out,

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confident as ever that victory is near, as indeed it is.

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In fact, it took another five years and a world war until female property owners over the age of 30

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were finally granted the vote in 1918.

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Women were only enfranchised on the same terms as men in 1928.

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In 1919, Lady Astor made history as the first woman to take her seat as a member of the House of Commons.

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This might not have been possible

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without the immense contribution women had made on the home front during the Great War.

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World War I effected a revolution in the lives of women of all classes.

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Their mass employment in jobs, previously the sole preserve of men

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and the subsequent altered perception of women's capabilities was to have lasting ramifications.

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On the windows of the great industrial towns of Britain,

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the rapping of the dawn knocker-up called the faithful to their lathes and drop hammers.

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A Britain where now the women were taking the places of the men,

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a Britain where the babies played in the arms of their nurses

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while their mothers bent over machines and work benches,

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a Britain at last fully gearing herself to modern war.

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That was where Aunt Maud came in.

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What would have happened to the Allied offensives of 1917

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without Aunt Maud just doesn't bear thinking about.

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Enough men at the front had come to mean women taking over at the back.

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While Uncle Harry was away, Aunt Mabel worked on a laundry van.

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That Mrs Higgins at No 9 was a tram conductress.

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As Aunt Mable said, it was nice to see her keeping on the rails.

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Mrs Higgins' friends Phoeb was bashing the front doors as a postwoman

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and the two Ramsbottom sisters were throwing parcels about the wrong way up at the station.

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And as well as them, there were women guards and women wheel dabbers.

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I don't know whether you ever wound up one of those old lorries.

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Sometimes they kicked back like a mule.

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But with Mrs Jones, well, woe betide them if they so much as coughed.

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And to think that only a year or so before in Britain, we'd been refusing them the vote.

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To refuse some of them by 1917 was to ask for a bat over the bonce with a clanking handle.

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They were doing the jobs and sometimes even showing the men how to do them.

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I tell you, it was a grim moment for the male sex.

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Look at 'em.

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Look at 'em, in 1917.

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What the world was going to be like after the war, Mrs Higgins' husband just shuddered to think.

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# Keep the home fires burning

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# While your hearts are yearning

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# Though your lads are far away They dream... #

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The socio-political changes women were experiencing

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were reflected in the gradual transformation of women's styles of dress.

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At the turn of the century, fashions were already beginning to lose some of the strict Victorian severity.

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Hats were still a must,

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but the increased physical activity of the modern woman's life meant clothing loosened up, a bit.

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There's something to put on for every occasion.

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The best for sport for, by now, sport, in small degree, was considered acceptable for ladies.

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By 1919, newly enfranchised, and having kept the country functioning during the First World War,

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women were reluctant to surrender the social and economic freedoms they had so recently won.

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Women's increased self-confidence was evident in their public behaviour.

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The etiquette of stringent respectability eased

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and gave way to an independence and informality

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that would have been unrecognisable to previous generations.

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Unsurprisingly, it also impacted on their wardrobes.

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The more relaxed fashions of the '20s

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saw hemlines rise...

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..and hairstyles shorten.

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The new trends demanded a new body shape.

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So widespread was the desire to achieve the fashionable flat look of the '20s flapper-girl

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that Pathe chronicled the phenomenon in the figure of an upper-class English girl, Daphne.

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If you wanted to have the boyish figure that was getting to be the rage - to be hipless and bustless -

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try a couple of terms at St Winnie's. They'd fine you down there properly.

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Steady, girls, don't overdo it.

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Because it was the '20s and women were all out to refute the fact that it was a man's world,

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there seemed great emphasis on sport and cricket, of all things, in particular.

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Daphne's games mistress used to say

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that a straight bat through life fears no fast bowlers,

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and Miss Horsfall ought to know. I mean, look at her.

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I suppose they felt that a girl ought to have a few muscles to give her a head start in life.

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Worth's of Paris in 1924 said, "Women's fondness for sport fixes the presence of the, er, contour."

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Well, the contours were certainly different, one had to admit that.

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Freer, you might say.

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Even at Deauville,

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the same emphasis on keeping slim and maintaining the flat look.

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Physical training to get down those curves

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and achieve a chest like the front of a tramcar, that was the target.

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Hard work to become flat both in front and behind, that was the motto for young and old, the light...

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and the heavy. Terribly good for you too...I-I suppose.

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But there does seem to have been some debate about the long-term effects

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of all this physical activity on the sporting female.

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Lenglen, Suzanne, French, but tennis champion of England from 1919 to 1923.

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If normalcy for women meant back to the kitchen,

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then Suzanne and the other ladies of her ilk were heading full tilt in the opposite direction.

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They were everywhere. From the tennis club to the Olympic Games.

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The weaker sex, look at them, and they still wanted a seat in the bus.

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Just about this time, a committee was set up

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to collect information on the sterility of the sporting type of woman.

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The vital issue at stake was, would these strenuous games impair the natural function of motherhood?

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For future generations to be or not to be - that was the question.

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All the new freedoms of the '20s seemed epitomised in the person of Hollywood actress Mary Pickford.

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The world's sweetheart, they called her,

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and to many Mary Pickford personified that whole first generation of really free women

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ready to do any man's job, and maybe do it even better.

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Already, those who had worked the fields and factories during the recent war

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were seeking fresh pastures in mass emigrations to Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

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Already, there were women lawyers, women doctors and even women dentists.

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Alice Delysia shocked some when she kicked off at a football match,

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but a few titters of disapproval couldn't stem such a tide,

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no sir...or madam. Suddenly on the sports fields, there were women centre forwards,

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goalkeepers, right backs, left backs...and better halves.

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Women had spotted their goals and were now all out to get them.

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Gone with the wind of war were the ladies of Victorian and Edwardian England,

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the ladies that once would have bathed only when covered from head to toe.

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Now the beaches of Britain were displaying, well, more than any respectable woman should,

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splashing about as though in the privacy of their own bathrooms, the shameless hussies.

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Yes, women had their behinds in the saddle and their feet on the pedals and there was no stopping them.

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In the race for superiority, men were hard pressed even to catch up.

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With such expanded horizons, it seemed the future opportunities for our flapper were limitless.

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When it came to careers, Daphne's mummy didn't quite realise that these were the '20s,

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and the '20s were different. "Oh, Mummy, I don't need a chaperone!"

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Yes, the '20s had brought a whole new set of careers for women.

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A little unconventional, but careers all the same.

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Why, only the other day

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they had a visit to London from that American flying girl, what was her name? Oh, yes, Amelia Earhart.

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Then there was Britain's own Amy Johnson.

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There seemed nothing that women weren't doing nowadays.

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Going off on long car expeditions to Africa or India or China.

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How can they do it? I mean, the inconvenience and the discomfort!

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A women's world, that's what it was now.

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The social trends begun after the First World War continued into the '30s,

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although the flat look, so characteristic of the flapper, found its moment had passed.

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The '30s. Did the girls look as nice?

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Well, being younger then, they all looked nice to me.

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Just breaking out of the severe masculine styles of the '20s and returning to basic...femininity.

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Pretty good stuff, really, and those beach pyjamas!

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After all the mannish horrors of the '20s, a return to the strictly feminine.

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For the boys, a very welcome change indeed.

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The girls no longer tried to look boyish, thank heaven, but did everything to emphasise their sex.

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The sale of cosmetics boomed.

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For every lipstick sold ten years before, now 1,500 were being disposed of.

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Just wipe that smile off your face.

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Someone has said that the new fashions of the '30s were a harkening back to the Victorian era,

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expressing a nostalgia for the secure life of those bygone times.

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Well, be that as it may, things certainly underwent great change.

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In place of the old flat-chested cylindrical look,

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flowing lines, leg of mutton sleeves, chirpy hats to reveal coquettishly one side of the head.

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But though elaborate, this garb was essentially practical.

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Those new zip fasteners saw to that.

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Curves may have been back in vogue, but the fashion for keep-fit hadn't diminished.

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Health and beauty, that was the general title.

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Some women I knew went for years.

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They got healthy anyway - you can't have everything.

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Bring your leg over, Nelly!

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It certainly entailed doing all sorts of things that you wouldn't normally indulge in,

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but you know what women are once they get an idea into their heads, there's no stopping them.

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..Four, five, six and snap!

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One, two, three, four, one, two, down, pom-pi-dom, pom-pi-tiddly-om.

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Tiddly-tiddly-om, tiddly-om-pom-pom.

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Tiddly-ompi-dom-pi-dom, one, two, three, four, diddly diddly...

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In the original Time To Remember, Sally Smith characterises the "everygirl" of the 1930s,

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exploring all the new avenues now open to her.

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Sally Smith was more likely than not a working girl now,

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employing her nimble fingers along those selfsame mass production lines.

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And no matter how routine the job was, she seldom seemed to get bored with it.

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Every day saw her entering into new occupations.

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In such a time of mass unemployment, it was a wonder that men weren't more often up in arms about it.

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But then a pretty face can often give quite a boost to sales.

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As travelling at high speeds seemed to be the first recreation of the new age,

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Sally Smith had to get into that too.

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Well, if Amy Johnson could build her own plane, fly it and service it, why shouldn't Sally?

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Even in the '30s, there were still plenty of places to fly to

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and, in the process, break a record and win yourself a newspaper prize of, say, £10,000.

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So nobody could claim it wasn't worth a candle.

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But whatever they claimed, Sally would still have gone her own sweet way, so what was the use?

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That was the spirit in which Sally Smith got into everything, and we mean everything.

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Marriage didn't seem to make any difference.

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With all those mass-produced devices

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to help with the washing up, cooking and cleaning, there was no knowing where Mrs Sally Smith might end up.

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"No time for whist today, dear, got a rally tomorrow.

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"Must get the old bike tuned up first."

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Yes, they were an adventurous lot, no denying it.

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The first Great War had been the start of women taking over men's jobs.

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Now it looked as though only another and greater war between the sexes could put an end to the trend.

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Whoever it was who said that little piece about harkening back

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to the Victorian era was on rather shaky ground, if you ask me.

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It certainly couldn't be claimed

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that these young ladies were expressing any nostalgia for the safe and secure.

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No doubt about it, the '30s had introduced a very new era indeed.

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With the advent of the Second World War,

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women once again stepped up to the breach,

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returning en masse to the production lines and taking on traditionally male occupations

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in more diverse and visible roles than ever before.

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The hair once again got shorter, but this time for practical reasons.

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Just about then, they brought in the Victory hairstyle for women,

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not so much a style, really, as a chopping off to prevent the locks being caught up in the works.

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For the women who worked the machines that made the things that were going to win the war

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didn't have much time for frills.

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Day shift, night shift, overtime, double time...

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The significance of women's mass contribution was such, they even started writing songs about it.

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# ..That works the thingummy bob

0:26:190:26:24

# It's the girl that makes the thing

0:26:240:26:26

# That drills the hole that holds the ring

0:26:260:26:28

# That makes the thingummy bob

0:26:280:26:31

# That makes the engines roar

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# And it's the girl that makes the thing

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# That holds the oil that oils the ring

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# That makes the thingummy bob that's going to win the war!

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# It is, an' all! #

0:26:510:26:54

The journey women had taken in less than 50 years was dramatic.

0:26:540:26:59

From social repression and political exclusion to keeping the home fires burning

0:26:590:27:04

and the home front functioning, this first generation of 20th-century women

0:27:040:27:08

had fought the good fight for greater independence and embraced its expanded horizons.

0:27:080:27:13

The Great War brought women into the workplace in numbers and occupations never seen before.

0:27:130:27:19

Their contribution to the war effort profoundly altered perceptions of women's capabilities,

0:27:190:27:25

and is said to have influenced their political enfranchisement.

0:27:250:27:28

New economic freedom, increased confidence and growing opportunity instilled in women

0:27:280:27:35

a sense of self-determination which was to be played out in the roaring '20s and early '30s.

0:27:350:27:41

By the outset of the Second World War, there was no question that women would once again

0:27:430:27:48

take up the mantle and keep the country running while the men were away.

0:27:480:27:52

The pioneering women of the early 20th century were an inspiration for those that followed.

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The freedoms they fought for created a momentum for change and a demand for equality

0:27:580:28:03

that would alter fundamentally the lives of generations of women to come.

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Newsreel footage and original 1950s Time to Remember voiceover by Joyce Grenfell and Dame Edith Evans offer an insight into the ways women's roles in society changed through the first five decades of the 20th century.

Featuring footage of suffragette protest, including Emily Davison at the 1913 Derby; working women during the First World War; Suzanne Lenglen playing tennis; and something of the fashions of the 20s and 30s.


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