Read Singled Out Online

Authors: Virginia Nicholson

Singled Out

BOOK: Singled Out
8.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Singled Out

By the same author

Among the Bohemians

Singled Out

How Two Million British Women Survived
Without Men after the First World War
virginia nicholson

Oxford University Press, Inc., publishes works that further Oxford University’s objective of excellence

in research, scholarship, and education.


New York

Auckland Cape Town Dar es Salaam Hong Kong Karachi Kuala Lumpur Madrid Melbourne Mexico City Nairobi New Delhi Shanghai Taipei Toronto

With offices in

Argentina Austria Brazil Chile Czech Republic France Greece Guatemala Hungary Italy Japan Poland Portugal Singapore South Korea Switzerland Thailand Turkey Ukraine Vietnam Copyright © 2008 by Virginia Nicholson

Published by Oxford University Press, Inc.

198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016

Oxford is a registered trademark of Oxford University Press All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of Oxford University Press.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Nicholson, Virginia.

Singled out : how two million British women survived without men after the First World War / Virginia Nicholson.

p. cm.

Includes bibliographical references and index.

ISBN 978-0-19-537822-1

1. World War, 1914–1918—Women—Great Britain.

2. War widows—Great Britain—Social conditions—20th century.

3. Single women—Great Britain—Social conditions—20th century.

4. World War, 1914–1918—Social aspects—Great Britain.

I. Title.

D639.W7N73 2008



1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2

Printed in the United States of America

on acid-free paper


List of Illustrations




 Where Have All the Young Men Gone?

Two women

The crown and joy


Deeply loved and sadly missed


A world without men


Surplus Two Million


 ‘A world that doesn’t want me’

The twilight state


Odd women and Ann Veronicas


The spinster problem


Destiny and the devil


The more of us the merrier


 On the Shelf



Mr Wrong


Heart-to-heart chats


A buyers’ market


‘But who will give me my children?’


 Business Girls

War, work and wives


Palaces of commerce


A rotten hard life



Singled Out

Miss All-Alone in the classroom


Miss All-Alone on the wards


 Caring, Sharing . . .

Lonely days


Companions, consolations


Other people’s babies


Lonely nights


The blessed fact of loving


 A Grand Feeling

A cause, a purpose and a passion


The Well


The urge


Finding happiness as a ‘bach’


Surviving the night


 The Magnificent Regiment of Women

The challenge of loss


We are not downhearted


A good strong character


Doing things that matter


‘You loved him’


Notes on Sources


Select Bibliography






List of Illustrations

. –: the pitiless destruction of a generation of young men (Imperial War Museum) . Wartime munitions workers: in those same four years the female workforce increased by nearly a million (Imperial War Museum)

. New women on bicycles (from Ruth Adam,
A Woman’s Place
) . Winifred Holtby and other Somerville students in  (from Marion Shaw,
The Clear Stream

. Margery Fry was Principal of Somerville College, Oxford, from  to 

(Courtesy The Principal and Fellows of Somerville College, Oxford) . and . Celebrating physical vigour, the Women’s League of Health and Beauty may not have done much to comfort men scarred and crippled by a remorseless conflict (
, from Mary Turner,
The Women’s Century
, Imperial War Museum) . Richmal Crompton: ‘the last surviving example of the Victorian professional aunt’ (from Mary Cadogan,
Richmal Crompton – The Woman Behind William
) . Society belle Isie Russell-Stevenson (Courtesy Julian Fellowes) . Rani Cartwright, a celebrated catwalk model who described herself as ‘free range’ (Courtesy Rani Cartwright) . Joan Evans lost the man she loved in , and by the age of twenty-two had given up hope of marriage (from her autobiography,
Prelude and Fugue
) . Cicely Hamilton lived ‘like the traditional spinster, with a cat for company’

(from her autobiography,
Life Errant
) . With the help of Jessie Monroe and her dogs, Elizabeth Goudge learned to ‘deeply prize the blessings of a single life’ (from her autobiography,
The Joy of
the Snow
) . ‘Rose-coloured carpets were mine’; stockbroker Beatrice Gordon Holmes photographed in the s (from her autobiography,
In Love with Life
) viii
Singled Out

. The staff of the Electrical Association for Women honour their founder Caroline Haslett, awarded the DBE in June  (Courtesy Institution of Engineering and Technology Archives)

. Career woman Bessie Webster chose to be photographed leaning against her Chairman’s Rolls Royce (Courtesy Isabel Raphael) . After thirty-seven attempts, Victoria Drummond passes her Chief Engineer’s exam (from Cherry Drummond,
The Remarkable Life of Victoria Drummond,
Marine Engineer

. ‘Gert and Daisy’: Elsie and Doris Waters (Getty Images) . ‘I thought a god was there’: Richard Aldington in  (National Portrait Gallery) . Irene Rathbone, featured in a round-up of book reviews in the weekly
,  (British Library, Newspaper Library) .
Private View
() by Gladys Hynes. Unmistakable in the centre of the picture are Radclyffe Hall and her lover Una Troubridge (from Michael Baker,
Three Selves
) . A Universal Aunt (from Kate Herbert-Hunting,
Universal Aunts
) . Nannies in Hyde Park (Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

. Mary Milne, Matron of St Mary’s Hospital, Paddington. Her fiance´ was killed in the war (St Mary’s NHS Trust Archive) . In the s nursing was one of the few professions seen as respectable for decent young ladies (Hulton Archive/Getty Images) . After her mother’s death, Phyllis Bentley rediscovered a guiltless freedom (from her autobiography,
O Dreams, O Destinations
) . Rowena Cade, founder of the Minack Theatre, Cornwall (Courtesy Minack Theatre Trust)

. Winifred Haward and Louis Hodgkiss (from Winifred Haward’s autobiography,
Two Lives
) . ‘I would live my life over again’: lady’s maid Rose Harrison (from her autobiography,
My Life in Service
) . Post-war, women replenished the ranks of white-collar workers killed in the trenches (Courtesy Cadbury Schweppes Plc)
List of Illustrations


. Shop assistants – in  ninety per cent of women working in the retail sector were single (Mary Evans Picture Library) . Margery Perham with Masai warriors in Kenya,  (Courtesy Tony Raine) . The archaeologist Gertrude Caton-Thompson (from her autobiography,
) . Women working in the laboratory at Girton College, Cambridge (Courtesy Girton College)

. Maude Royden in the pulpit (from Sheila Fletcher,
Maude Royden, a Life
) . Preacher, journalist and charity worker Rosamund Essex with her adopted son David (from her autobiography,
Woman in a Man’s World
) . Picnics and prayer meetings: members of the Christian Alliance of Women and Girls on holiday in Scarborough,  (Courtesy Keychange Charity) . Campaigning for spinsters: on the right, Florence White (Courtesy West Yorkshire Archive Service, Bradford)

Illustrations in the Text

p.  ‘Husband hunters’, caricature in
Strand Magazine
, Vol. , July–December 

p.  ‘The gorgon Aunt Jane with her maiden lady companion’, illustration in Hilaire Belloc,
Cautionary Tales
p.  ‘The literate spinster’, caricature by Nicolas Bentley in Hilaire Belloc,
Cautionary Tales
p.  ‘The superfluous woman: a holiday tragedy’, from
,  August 

p.  Illustration to Daisy Ashford’s romance,
The Young Visiters
p.  ‘To Meet the Shortage of Dancing Men’, from
,  October 

p.  ‘Meeting and Mating’, illustration from
,  December 

p.  Illustration from Doris Langley Moore,
The Technique of the Love Affair
p.  Illustrated feature from
Weldon Ladies’ Journal
, September 

p.  Illustration in ‘Things That Make Me Grouse’,
Woman’s Life
, September 


Singled Out

p.  The Scholastic Woman as depicted by
Woman’s Weekly
, October 

p.  Illustration to an article on nursing in
What Shall I Be? A Book of Careers
, ed. Jocelyn Oliver, 

p.  Nanny and her charges, illustration in Noe¨l Streatfeild,
Ballet Shoes
, 

p.  Title page of Marie Stopes,
Married Love
,  (Wellcome Institute Library) p.  ‘Will You or Won’t You?’, illustration by Cipe´ Pineles in Marjorie Hillis,
Live Alone and Like It
, 

p.  ‘Falling in Love’, illustration from
Strand Magazine
, Vol. , July–December 

p.  ‘I Say, Isn’t Your Pipe a Bit Large?’, illustration from
,  June 

p.  ‘Little City Girl All Alone’ as seen by
Woman’s Weekly
, 

p.  ‘William was left alone to escort Aunt Jane through the mazes of the land of pleasure’, illustration by Thomas Henry in Richmal Crompton,
William the
, 

p.  Illustration to ‘Aviation – a career for girls’, in
What Shall I Be? A Book of
, ed. Jocelyn Oliver, 

p.  ‘Have
Discovered Electricity?’, an advertisement in
The Electrical Journal
of June 

p.  Classified advertisements targeting the female labour market in
, January 


The First World War deprived Britain of nearly three-quarters of a million soldiers, slaughtered on the Western Front and elsewhere. They were known as ‘the Flower of Europe’, ‘the Flowers of the Forest’, and ‘the Lost Generation’. Many of them left behind widows and orphans, but enormous numbers of these young men were unmarried when they died. Their deaths bereaved another generation: the thousands of women born, like them, between  and , who unquestioningly believed marriage to be their birthright, only to have it snatched from them by four of the bloodiest years in human history.

Those women started to die off in the s and s, and now there are few left, but anyone today over the age of thirty or forty will remember them. In the s when the phenomenon first arose they were known collectively as the Surplus Women, and according to the  Census there were one and three-quarter million of them. I remember as a child in suburban Leeds our neighbour was one of these spinsters. Miss Pease was diminutive and self-effacing; she lived a blamelessly meek and solitary existence in a humble stone terrace house with a cat, a cottage piano and an outside lavatory. Though you couldn’t pigeonhole them, these women were somehow both valiant and incongruous. Unasked questions hovered around them. Why didn’t they ever marry? Did they mind? Did they harbour secret sadness? What did they do about the lack of love in their lives, and the lack of sex? Did they care that they had never had children?

BOOK: Singled Out
8.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Lethal Exposure by Kevin J. Anderson, Doug Beason
Dead Man's Puzzle by Parnell Hall
Darkness at Dawn by Elizabeth Jennings
Death Comes eCalling by Leslie O'Kane
In Guilty Night by Alison Taylor