Marjorie Maxse

Marjorie Maxse

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Marjorie Maxse, one of the two children, and the only daughter, of Ernest George Berkeley Maxse, British vice-consul at Algiers, was born on 26th October 1891. Her father's work for the consular service meant that she spent the first twenty-five years of her life abroad. During the First World War she served for a time as an auxiliary nurse in a French military hospital. (1)

According to her biographer, Mark Pottle "Maxse was a natural leader who combined powers of self-control and reserve with clear vision and a single-minded determination to achieve her goals. Her freedom from personal animus was an especially valuable attribute in the world of politics, where she made her career." Maxse was a member of the Conservative Party and in 1921 she was chosen as one of the first women area agents appointed by Conservative central office.

In 1923 Marjorie Maxse was promoted to be the first administrator of the Women's Unionist Organization (WUO) based at the party headquarters in London. It has been pointed out by Neal R. McCrillis, the author of The British Conservative Party in the Age of Universal Suffrage (1998), that she told party agents "to teach women to be voters and Conservative voters, not to create a feminist movement within the Conservative party". (2)

In 1931 she was appointed chief organization officer, the first woman to occupy such a role in any political party. It has been argued that she was one of the "principal architects" in the development of women's organization in the Conservative Party. (3) Mark Pottle has argued that Marjorie Maxse believed that "women Conservatives were important for fund-raising and canvassing, and... she believed that men mostly did not wish to give them organizational responsibility and so she favoured developing separate women's branches at the constituency level... By retaining a separate organization women stood a greater chance to gain recognition of their role, as well as retain a degree of autonomy. She appreciated that this could also lead to their being marginalized, but on balance she felt that the policy brought about real advances." (4)

In 1940 Maxse was appointed director of the Children's Overseas Reception Board and vice-chair of the Women's Voluntary Services for Civil Defence (WVS). However, she was also chief of staff for Section D (the "D" stood for destruction) of MI6. Ben Macintyre, the author of A Spy Among Friends (2014) has pointed out that "Miss Marjorie Maxse was chief organisation officer for the Conservative Party, a role that apparently equipped her to identify people who would be good at spreading propaganda and blowing things up." (5)

Guy Burgess, the Soviet spy, also worked for Section D and suggested to Marjorie Maxse that she should recruit his friend, Kim Philby. Maxse agreed and he was given security clearance by Guy Liddell of MI5. Philby points out that Ralph Deakin, the Foreign News Editor of The Times, summoned him to his office and he was told him that the War Office had telephoned to ask whether he was "available for war work".

In his book, My Secret War (1968) Philby described his first meeting with Maxse: "I found myself in the forecourt of St. Ermin's Hotel, near St James's Park station, talking to Miss Marjorie Maxse. She was an intensely likeable elderly lady (then almost as old as I am now). I had no idea then, as I have no idea now, what her precise position in government was. But she spoke with authority, and was evidently in a position at least to recommend me for interesting employment. At an early stage of our talk, she turned the subject to the possibilities of political work against the Germans in Europe. For ten years, I had taken a serious interest in international politics; I had wandered about Europe in a wide arc from Portugal to Greece; I had already formed some less than half-baked ideas on the subversion of the Nazi regime. So I was reasonably well equipped to talk to Miss Maxse. I was helped by the fact that very few people in England at that early date had given serious thought to the subject. Miss Maxse's own ideas had been in the oven very little longer than mine."

A few days later Philby had another meeting with Maxse: "At our second meeting, she turned up accompanied by Guy Burgess, whom I knew well. I was put through my paces again. Encouraged by Guy's presence, I began to show off, name-dropping shamelessly, as one does at interviews. From time to time, my interlocutors exchanged glances; Guy would nod gravely and approvingly. It turned out that I was wasting my time, since a decision had already been taken. Before we parted, Miss Maxse informed me that, if I agreed, I should sever my connection with The Times and report for duty to Guy Burgess at an address in Caxton Street, in the same block as the St. Ermin's Hotel.... I decided that it was my duty to profit from the experiences of the only secret service man of my acquaintance. So I spent the weekend drinking with Guy Burgess. On the following Monday, I reported to him formally. We both had slight headaches." (6)

In 1944 Marjorie Maxse accepted an invitation to become vice-chair of the Conservative Party Organization. The 1945 General Election defeat forced the Conservative Party to look hard at its constituency organization, and the old structure of separate men's and women's branches was abolished. As Mark Pottle points out: "The decline of Conservative Party organization in the constituencies by 1945 was seen by Maxse as a possible opportunity for the advancement of women, and yet the introduction of joint branches seemed to frustrate this hope. By being grouped with the men, women party workers lost the autonomy they had previously enjoyed without any real compensatory increase in their power or influence." (7)

Maxse was concerned that the Conservative Party was lagging behind the Labour Party and Liberal Party "in the formulation of policy of special interest to women". (8) She was disappointed when at the 1945 party conference a resolution affirming equal opportunities, "in order to ensure that the best mind or hand shall have the same chance to excel", was rejected. Maxse was a member of the party committee set up by Rab Butler to frame a "women's charter". The committee's report attacked the discrimination experienced by women and called for equal pay in at least some sectors of the economy. The proposals were rejected at the 1948 annual conference. (8)

Miss Maxse retired in 1951. The following year she was appointed DBE. She remained active in the work of the United Nations Association and also on behalf of the Anglican church in the diocese of Chichester.

Marjorie Maxse died, unmarried, on 3rd May, 1975 at St George's Retreat, Ditchling, East Sussex.

I found myself in the forecourt of St. But she spoke with authority, and was evidently in a position at least to recommend me for "Interesting" employment. Miss Maxse's own ideas had been in the oven very little longer than mine.

I passed this first examination. As we parted, Miss Maxse asked me to meet her again at the same place a few days later. At our second meeting, she turned up accompanied by Guy Burgess, whom I knew well. Before we parted, Miss Maxse informed me that, if I agreed, I should sever my connection with The Times and report for duty to Guy Burgess at an address in Caxton Street, in the same block as the St. Ermin's Hotel.

The Times gave me little difficulty. Deakin huffed and sighed a little, but he had nothing spectacular to offer me. So I left Printing House Square without fanfare, in a manner wholly appropriate to the new, secret and important career for which I imagined myself heading. I decided that it was my duty to profit from the experiences of the only secret service man of my acquaintance. We both had slight headaches.

The organization to which I became attached called itself the Secret Intelligence Service (SIS). It was also widely known as MI5, while to the innocent public at large it was simply the secret service. The ease of my entry surprised me. It appeared later that the only enquiry made into my past was a routine reference to MI5, who passed my name through their records and came back with the laconic statement: Nothing Recorded Against. Today, every new spy scandal in Britain produces a flurry of judicial statements on the subject of "positive vetting." But in that happier Eden positive vetting had never been heard of. Sometimes, in the early weeks, I felt that perhaps I had not made the grade after all. It seemed that somewhere, lurking in deep shadow, there must be another service, really secret and really powerful, capable of backstairs machination on such a scale as to justify the perennial suspicions of, say, the French! But it soon became clear that such was not the case. It was the death of an illusion. Its passing caused me no pain.

Guy first took me to the office that had been assigned to me. It was a small room with a table, a chair and a telephone, and nothing else. With a snort of annoyance, Guy disappeared down the corridor and came back with a sheaf of foolscap which he laid on the table. Satisfied that I was now fully equipped for my duties, he told me that my salary would be the same as his: £600 per annum, paid monthly in cash and no nonsense from the Inland Revenue. No snooping after a single secret shilling! In fact, the secrecy of pay-scales concealed gross inequalities. Each contract was theoreticallv a private, secret one between the Chief and his subordinate. And if the Chief could get A cheaper than B, whatever their respective merits, he would be silly not to do so. However, I was quite happy with the arrangement, and I was then taken off to be introduced to some of my future colleagues. As they play no substantial part in my story, I shall not embarrass them by mentioning their names.

The section of SIS in which I found myself was known as Section D (for Destruction). I never saw its charter if it had one. From talks with my colleag-ues, I gathered that the object of the section was to help defeat the enemy by stirring up active resistance to his domination and destroying, by non-militarv means, the sources of his power. The head of the section was Colonel Lawrence Grand, to whom I was introduced a few days after joining his staff. Tall and lean, he looked startlingly like the dream-figure who should have approached me in Germany or Spain. The difference was that his mind was certainly not clipped. It ranged free and handsome over the whole field of his awesome responsibilities, never shrinking from an idea, however big or wild.

(1) Mark Pottle, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Neal R. McCrillis, The British Conservative Party in the Age of Universal Suffrage (1998) page 62

(3) The Times (6th May 1975)

(4) Mark Pottle, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(5) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014)

(6) Kim Philby, My Secret War (1968) pages 9-10

(7) Mark Pottle, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(8) G. E. Maguire, Conservative Women: A History of Women and the Conservative Party (1998)

(8) Mark Pottle, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

St Ermin’s Hotel was once a secret Spy Base

Throughout the Second World War, St Ermin’s Hotel was used as a base for British spies, as well as still serving its purpose as a hotel for unknowing guests – who probably would not have been so willing to stay there, had they known that they were sleeping beneath a whole floor full of explosives!

Originally constructed as individual, private mansions on the site of a 15th-century chapel in 1889, St Ermin’s became the hotel it is today a decade later when the mansions were interconnected. The hotel was soon identified as an ideal location for a centre for wartime operations, due to its strategic position it’s situated in the middle of all the wartime intelligence offices and close to the Houses of Parliament.

As war loomed over Western Europe, government activity at St Ermin’s increased. Agents were trained, interviews were held by the SIS, usually conducted by Marjorie Maxse, the organisation’s recruiter as detailed in Kim Philby’s autobiography My Silent War, and information was passed to and from spies, until 1938, when the British Secret Intelligence Service Section D moved in. ‘Section D’ were demolition experts who lived in the top floor of the hotel, and stashed a stockpile of their explosives there, too. The espionage writer Mark Birdsall said in his foreword to House of Spies, a book by Peter Matthews about the espionage connection to the hotel, “I hesitate to guess the number of people connected to intelligence and covert activities that have passed through the foyer of the hotel through the years, or walked its secret corridors on to the streets of London.”

You can still indulge in the spy background of the hotel, as many souvenirs and items have been kept from the times of covert spies and intelligence officers. Keepsakes from the espionage era include a radio code-bearing piece of silk from France and a Division Bell, which is still connected to the Houses of Parliament and notified members of Parliament when a vote was being held. Members of Parliament would have only 10 minutes to make the journey from the hotel to the House of Commons! To engage further with the history of the hotel, visitors can gain an ‘ultra-secret code red’ pass, which allows them to embark on a tour around the site and take part in a trivia game.

During and after World War II, MI6 was also based in the hotel, and many infamous double agents for Russia, such as Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, often visited there. It is known that Burgess regularly carried out much of his work in the Caxton Bar, where you can eat or drink today, and handed over top-secret British files to Russian contacts there.

In the current menu of the Caxton Bar, there is even a page dedicated to the ‘Cambridge Five’, made up of the five double agents named Blunt, Burgess, Cairncross, Philby and Maclean, who all went in and out of the hotel during the Cold War. Each spy has their own cocktail named after them, which uses the name given to them by the KGB, the main security agency for the Soviet Union from 1954 until its break-up in 1991.

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About Katherine Maxse (Lushington) "Kitty"

  • October to December 1890: Registration of marriage of Katherine Lushington in Epsom (Volume 2a, Page 21)
  • October to December 1890: Registration of marriage of Leopold James Maxse in Epsom (Volume 2a, Page 21)

Letters From Katherine Lushington To Vernon Lushington

In 1890 Katherine married Leopold Maxse (1864-1932) son of Admiral Frederick Augustus Maxse (1833-1900), admiral and political writer, at Cobham parish church. Their engagement had been brought about by Julia Stephen inviting Kitty and Leo to Talland House, St Ives, in the summer of 1890 where the proposal was made before dinner - an episode later recreated in Virginia Woolf's 'To The Lighthouse'.

In 1890, when Kitty was twenty-three, Julia Stephen invited her to stay at Talland House, St Ives in Cornwall, where the Lushingtons had been before there is a reference to their departure for Cornwall in Gissing's letters. This time Julia also invited Leopold J. Maxse, fairly recently down from Cambridge, where he had been president of the Union. He popped the question to Kitty in the garden, and they were married in the church at Cobham at the end of that year with the reception at "Pyports". Julia, and her daughter by her first marriage Stella Duckworth, were among the guests. The episode of Leo's proposal, made during the summer holiday house-party, left an indelible impression upon the mind of Virginia Woolf, then a child of seven, and it re-surfaced thirty-five years later in her novel "To the Lighthouse."

Sir Hubert Parry (composer of "Jerusalem") dedicated the first piece, Idyll, to his good friend Kitty Maxse (formerly Kitty Lushington)

Virginia Woolf based the character of Clarissa Dalloway in Mrs Dalloway on Kitty Maxse, a woman who she knew in her own life. Maxse was the gentile wife of an affluent man and whom Woolf, along with many others, considered to be the proper type of society woman

Vernon Lushington’s eldest daughter Kitty (1867- 1922) and her sisters Margaret and Susan grew up at Pyports listening to fairy tales read by family friend and author Mary de Morgan.

After their mother’s sudden death, the girls, then aged 17, 15 and four, were taken under the wing of Julia Prinsep Stephen (whose first husband was a circuit judge with Vernon), one of whose own daughters became the writer Virginia Woolf.

The model for Beatrice was Eleanor Butcher, Milly Hughes modelled for Monna Vanna, and the model for the maidservant was Kitty Lushington

Sunday, 22 October 1922 Hogarth House, Paradise Road, Richmond, Surrey

. Margery was here the other night — your sister I mean, not Marjorie Strachey who ramps in Gordon Square — a menagerie without cages The animals prowl in and out, and Nessa was laying the law down the other night with some force If only she could never see any of her friends, she says, life might be tolerable but there’s Karin, there’s Mary Hutch* there’s the telephone, there’s Kitty Maxse falling over the banisters and killing herself — ought one to write to Susan Lushington [her sister]. No, one would say the wrong thing. Still it seems a pity that Kitty did kill herself, but of course she was an awful snob. No, one couldn’t go on with people like that One had to make a break somewhere. Then, of course, married comes Angelica [Bell], all the beads are upset on the floor, et cetera, et cetera.

October to December 1922: Registration of death of Katherine Maxse aged 55 [born about 1867] in Kensington (Volume 1a, Page 109)

14 April 1923 probate of Katherine Maxse of 33 Cromwell Road, Kensington, Middlesex, who died 4 October 1922, probate granted at London on 14 April 1923 to Leopold James Maxse, gentleman, spouse. Effects � 0s. 11d.

The Ministry of Blockade during the First World War and the Demise of Free Trade

Phillip Dehne, The Ministry of Blockade during the First World War and the Demise of Free Trade, Twentieth Century British History, Volume 27, Issue 3, September 2016, Pages 333–356,

Foreign trade held tremendous importance to the British in the early twentieth century. The question of whether to retain Free Trade or shift to an Imperial Preference system ranked as perhaps the most critical political issue not just among financiers in the City but also for coal miners and mill workers. As it had for decades, Free Trade won the debate. London ranked as the uncontested centre of globalization. British investors sent significantly larger sums abroad than their counterparts in any other country. Merchant ships flying the Union Jack dominated trade on routes near and far, and British companies owned and operated virtually all of the telegraph lines that transmitted vital communications between businessmen on different continents. Completely incapable of feeding itself, Britain imported a far greater percentage of its food than any.

The 11th February saw the success of a long campaign to depose Edward Heath as Leader of the Conservative Party, and replaced by his former Education Secretary, the relatively unknown Margaret Thatcher. Dennis Healey recalls that at the 1975 Bilderberg "David Rockefeller and Henry Kissinger and the other Americans fell in love with her".

A diplomatic cable from Wikileaks indicates that starting on 14 May 1975, the US Senate Subcommittee on Internal Security had a hearing on "international terrorism". Among the principal speakers was Brian Crozier. The cable refers to him as head of the Institute for the Study of Conflict, but makes no mention of his role as Chairman of Le Cercle. Ώ] 9 years later he would be back in Washington for the Washington Conference on International Terrorism.

Marjorie Maxse -->

Dame Sarah Algeria Marjorie Maxse, DBE, better known as Marjorie Maxse (26 October 1891 – 3 May 1975), was a political organiser and the first female chief organization officer of the Conservative Party. [1]

Maxse was the daughter of Ernest George Berkeley Maxse (18 November 1863 – 13 March 1943) and Sarah Alice Nottage-Miller (died 25 May 1908). In 1940 Maxse was appointed director of the Children&aposs Overseas Reception Board and vice-chair of the Women&aposs Voluntary Services for Civil Defence (WVS). However, she was also chief of staff for Section D (the "D" stood for destruction) of MI6. [2]

Guy Burgess, the Soviet spy, worked for Section D and suggested to Maxse she should recruit his friend, Kim Philby. In his book, My Secret War (1968) Philby described his first meeting with Maxse: "I found myself in the forecourt of St. Ermin&aposs Hotel, near St James&aposs Park station, talking to Miss Marjorie Maxse. She was an intensely likeable elderly lady (then almost as old as I am now). I had no idea then, as I have no idea now, what her precise position in government was. But she spoke with authority, and was evidently in a position at least to recommend me for interesting employment. At an early stage of our talk, she turned the subject to the possibilities of political work against the Germans in Europe." [3]

Conservative Party Archive: Conservative Central Office - Organisation Department

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  1. Organisation Department: Office Administration, 1960-1974
  2. Chief Organisation Officer/Director of Organisation: Papers, 1959-1976
  3. Organisation Department: Component sections, 1942-1993
  4. Liaison with other areas of the party organisation, 1948-1975
  5. Reviews of the Party Organisation, 1911-1993
  6. Party Membership, 1946-1972
  7. Party Finance, 1943-1974
  8. Monitoring of, and contact with, other political parties, 1947-1974
  9. Campaigning and Elections, 1950-1974
  10. Party Policy, 1945-1977
  11. Party Conferences, 1962-1974
  12. Legal Affairs, 1964-1973



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Biographical / Historical

By far the largest, and oldest component of Conservative Central Office (CCO), was the Organisation Department, which dated back to 1911. The Organisation Department was responsible for the state of readiness of the Party organisation throughout the country. In addition to the staff based at CCO in London, there were 11 area offices corresponding to the Provincial Areas of the National Union, each office being staffed by a Central Office Agent (otherwise known as the Area Agent), with deputies, available to advise the constituencies.

The Organisation Department was something of an umbrella body, acquiring responsibility for agents, Conservative trade unionists, local government, speakers, education, the Overseas Bureau, Young Conservatives, students, personnel, the Small Business Bureau, and legal affairs, as the work of Central Office expanded. At various times these sections have been elevated to the status of Department reflecting changes in emphasis within the Party, but then later reintegrated back into the Organisation Department for instance, the short-lived Community Affairs Department, which existed under its own director from 1975 until 1980.

The Organisation Department came under the direct responsibility of the Principal Agent (from 1930, known as the General Director). Following a review of the Party organisation undertaken by Deputy Party Chairman Lord Stanley in 1927, the Principal Agent was assisted in this by a deputy, known as the Chief Organisation Officer. Following the abolition of the post of General Director in 1966, this post was re-named Director of Organisation. Ultimately, one of the Party's vice-chairmen, appointed by the Party Leader, has responsibility for the Party organisation.

In common with all areas of the Party's headquarters' organisation, the Organisation Department has seen many changes over the course of its existence. Between 1980-1985, it was known as the Organisation and Community Affairs Department. From 1985-1989 it was known as the Campaigning and Training Department, and since 1989 it has been known as the Campaigning Department. The current structure of Conservative Campaign Headquarters is broadly the same and while the precise naming of departments is subject to flux, the core functions remain. In 2016 there is still a Campaigning Department – with responsibility for local campaigning. There is a Press Office - which oversees relations with the media. And there is also a separate Communications Team - which covers new media, marketing and advertising.


Tories and Hunters: Swinton College and the Landscape of Modern Conservatism, Lawrence Black

For twenty-eight years from 1948 Swinton College was the Conservative Party’s activist training base in North Yorkshire. It was founded by Butler, hosted Heath’s policy ‘away days’ in the late 1960s, promoted the rise of neoliberal ideas and, notwithstanding this, was closed by Thatcher. Housed in Lord Swinton’s stately home, it was also one of Macmillan’s preferred venues for grouse shooting and won the affection of figures like Powell and a generation of activists as a sort of Country Life picture of Englishness. This article merges these political and cultural histories to outline an alternative history of modern Conservatism, both upper and lower-case. It notes the parallels and linkages between the form of Butler’s original conception of the College’s role and Thatcher’s ideological project. It also examines the persistence of the public association between Conservatism and this lifestyle of elite houses, country sports and rural escape – Tories and Hunters. Despite Thatcher’s modernizing aims this association was, if anything, emboldened through the 1980s and after, suggesting limits to the degree of change represented by the New Right.

The Feminising Fallout of Britain's EU Referendum: Is this the New Face of Feminism?

Who would have thought that one of the most remarkable outcomes of Britain's EU referendum would have been the rise of women in politics--across the board, across the spectrum, and across Europe. At this moment (and we better get this out fast before events take the next unpredictable dramatic turns) Britain is poised to be led by women. This is the culmination of what adversarial sides in the battle of the sexes had prophesized for more than a century, the anti-feminists with dread, generations of feminists with aspiration and hope: the feminisation of politics.

Ironically, this momentous achievement for feminism, precarious as it is in the Shakespearean intrigue that characterises Conservative and Labour politics at this moment, seems to be almost entirely accidental and unintentional.

Women are, or are poised to become, leaders of almost every mainstream party in the United Kingdom. Angela Eagle for Labour. Theresa May for the Conservatives, with other female aspirants for the leadership nipping at her kitten heels. Nicola Sturgeon is leader of the SNP, Ruth Davidson leader of the Scottish Conservatives, and Kezia Dugdale leads Scottish Labour--and all three passionate Remainers. Leanne Wood is the leader of Plaid Cymru in Wales. Frances O'Grady is general secretary of the TUC, the first woman to reach this position in what is often portrayed as a masculine and macho world of trade union politics. The Green Party is led by Natalie Bennett and its only MP is Caroline Lucas.

Despite the fact that women have been underrepresented in the press coverage leading up to the Referendum, there were still aspects of the debate that were notably feminised. For example, four of the six debaters at Wembley on Tuesday 21 June were women. Tragically, the martyr of this campaign is murdered Labour MP Jo Cox.

And we haven't even mentioned Europe yet: Angela Merkel is the Chancellor of Germany, one of the main interlocutors in forthcoming Brexit negotiations, and firmly mobilised in favour of the refugees. Marine Le Pen, leader of the French Front National, has been a vocal contributor to this debate, exulting over and capitalizing on the Brexit result, while Beata Szydło is Prime Minister in Poland representing the Nationalist Party. What we are seeing is the unmistakable ascendency of women on the Right.

Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg warned Britons they 'won't like' life on the margins of the EU, opposing Leave campaigners who take Norway's relationship with the EU as a model. Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarović, said the European project would carry on. Outside Europe, Hillary Clinton could be the first woman President, and is the first woman to be the presumptive nominee of one of the two major parties in US history.

In Britain is this the end of patriarchy and the beginning of a new matriarchy? In the aftermath of the First World War and the achievement of women's (partial) suffrage in 1918, that is just what women activists hopefully predicted--a world of women, and a women's peace to bring an end to a man-made war. Are these women today providing a 'safe pair of hands' to clean up the mess left by their male counterparts?

One of the other remarkable things about this group of women is how few are themselves mothers. May, Eagle, Sturgeon, Davidson are childless, as is Merkel despite being the nation's 'Mutti'. These women therefore fit the model of 'social mothers', the description given to so many women activists in political and humanitarian efforts since the late 19th century who were not married or who did not have children by design or due to missed opportunity.

However fulfilling of feminist aspirations the rise of women in politics may be, what are the implications of the rise of these women for working mothers, and for those working mothers out there in search of role models? Theresa May might come to fill Margaret Thatcher's shoes in many respects. Yet it is paradoxical that professional mother-of-two Thatcher should have deemed feminism a poison, while May proudly dons the T-shirt of the Fawcett Society and is on record as a self-identified feminist.

From the turn of the twentieth century and increasingly onwards, the Conservative Party presented itself as the party of domesticity, celebrating the values of "home and hearth". This has been explored in the past by historians and political commentators-- for example, Beatrix Campbell, Jon Lawrence, David Jarvis, David Thackeray, and Sarah Childs& Paul Webb--and this new set of circumstances will no doubt reinvigorate the historically-informed debates.

Conservative women working within the party were seen as building on their expertise as housewives in order to extend their caring role to local, national and international affairs. This did not mean they were all mothers of course. Marjorie Maxse, the first administrator of the Women's Unionist Organisation in 1923, Deputy Principal Agent of the party in 1928, vice-chair of the Conservative Party Organisation in 1944 was unmarried and had no children.

So too many of the first Conservative women MPs after suffrage were childless and/or unmarried. Marjorie Graves, Florence Horsbrugh, and Irene Ward were single, while Thelma Cazalet-Keir and the Duchess of Atholl never had children. No wonder the reactionaries talked about 'our spinster MPs'. Nonetheless, the political communication of the Conservative Party was based on the equation between domesticity and modernity.

The rhetoric of domesticity was one that Margaret Thatcher mastered particularly well, telling the feminist Jill Tweedie in the late 1960s that: 'I've got a housekeeper but I still do the cooking myself . rush in, peel the vegetables, put the roast in . all before I take off my hat.'

On 28 June, The Telegraph noted that Theresa May has been "married to the same man since 1980," and the fact that she does not have "any children" means "she's less likely to be distracted on the job". Did anyone worry about Boris's children? Clearly the Conservative party's strategies of political communication have changed since Thatcher. Also, unlike Margaret Thatcher, Theresa May is seen as helping others of her sex, having co-founded Women2Win in 2005, with Baroness Jenkins, to increase the number of Conservative women in Parliament

Whatever happens, wherever the chips eventually fall in this Russian roulette of post-referendum political unrest, the feminisation of politics has to mean something. Even if this is just a Polaroid snap shot of one day in British political history, it still represents a sea change in our political culture.

To what extent can the rise of women be explained by political disenchantment and disengagement, deep distress about and distrust of the political establishment and its old-boy-old-school-tie politics? These questions are pertinent to both the Conservative and Labour parties, and it is in no way just 'small talk'. However unintended or accidental, this is the new face of feminism and we need to look it straight in the eye.

This article was first published by the Political Studies Association (PSA) via the PSA Blog. Clarissa Berthezene and Julie Gottlieb are both members of the PSA.

The records of Tory women’s organisation provide a crucial insight into gender and conservatism in the twentieth century

Drawing of evidence from the Conservative Party archive David Swift sheds light on the active and changing role that women have played in the the Party since the 1920s. His research reveals a story which is far more complex than standard narratives which centre heavily on Margaret Thatcher as the ‘female Conservative’ par excellence.

Image: Theresa May and Justine Greening speaking at #YouthForChange. Credit: DFID CC BY 2.0

Much recent criticism of politics has focused on the representation of women. Despite his Shadow Cabinet containing more women than ever before, new Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was still criticised for the lack of women in his ‘big four’ (Party Leader, Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary). By contrast the Conservatives have a female Home Secretary (Theresa May) as the leading figure amongst several prominent women in the cabinet. Despite this the Tory party still has an image problem when it comes to women.

Cabinet women are labelled ‘Dave’s Darlings’ Nicky Morgan and Amber Rudd are just ‘girls’ to a Downing-Street photographer and, most importantly, the party still lags behind Labour in numbers of female MPs. The sexist preconceptions are all too visible, and Tory stereotypes tend to exacerbate gendered assumptions. But when we look more closely, it becomes clear that women have played an active and changing role in the Conservative Party’s recent history, a story which is far more complex than standard narratives which tend to focus heavily on Margaret Thatcher as the ‘female Conservative’ par excellence.

Challenging this narrative is one of the core aims of the University of Sheffield’s Rethinking Right-wing Women project, and over the summer I was employed as a research assistant to investigate just this topic. My brief was to review papers in the Conservative Party Archive at the Bodleian Library that concerned women and the Tory party, and to give an overview of the material relating to women and gender issues generally.

It became clear from my research that women’s organisation remained absolutely subservient to the interests of the party: but also there was a definite evolution over time in the image of Conservative women. In the half century between the full adult franchise in 1928 and Thatcher’s last election victory in 1987, we can see Conservative women within the party looking to transform their public perception, from dutiful housewife to modern woman, despite the indifference or opposition of the mainstream party organisation.

A cartoon from the Conservative party pamphlet Home and Politics in the 1920s reinforced the dominant image of the time as the Conservative woman as a no nonsense housewife. It showed St Stephen’s Tower (which houses the ‘Big Ben’ bell) with an apron, scrubbing a screaming child in a tin bath. The caption read: ‘The Mother of Parliaments has to take the Socialist MPs in hand, as their leader cannot manage them.’

A further cartoon from June 1928 depicted a young woman vacuuming up left-wing slogans (Communism, Nationalisation, Wild Socialist Schemes) with a machine marked ‘Women’s Vote’, unpacked from a box labelled ‘Baldwin’s Electoral Machine’. It was captioned: ‘Conservative and Unionist Woman Members (to new young woman voter): “I will show you the right way to use it, my dear”.’ Clearly again the imagined Conservative woman was an authoritative housewife.

In the years leading up to the Second World War, whilst it was felt ever more important to win female votes, there was little evolution in the idea of the place of women in British society. The minutes of the Women’s Advisory Committee (WAC), both the national body and its regional branches, show that attitudes towards issues such as corporal punishment and the role of women had not much changed. Particularly prominent were laments for the decline of women in domestic service, and the WAC spoke of ‘the need to change the attitude in certain schools which discouraged pupils to take up domestic work’.

However, this is not to say that the women of the Conservative party took no interest in feminism, nor had no agency in constructing their own identity, separate from that attributed to them by Tory men and socialists. They were quick to take exception to any appropriation of feminism and femininity, and there was a great deal of anger at a post-war circular by American feminist and journalist Dorothy Thompson. This pamphlet highlighted certain prominent British women such as Vera Brittain and Oliva Manning, all of whom were on the left. Marjorie Maxse thundered at the ‘impertinence’ of Thompson to say who ‘our’ most prominent women are, and advised her fellow Tories to have ‘nothing whatsoever to do with [Thompson]…Vera Brittain is a Communist and Mrs Manning has now identified herself with Communist activities’.

The 1960s witnessed a shift in the image of a Tory woman, from the matronly housewife of the first half of the twentieth century to a more independent-minded and ambitious young woman. This caused some consternation from some of the elder stateswomen of the party, including criticism of the behaviour of photographers at the 1964 conference:

Lady Brecon who had watched the Conference on Television thought there had been a tendency to show shots of the oddities rather than the more normal representatives. Miss Sturges-Jones asked members to pay particular regard to their posture when being televised. When skirts were so short it was essential to sit well.

By the 1970s, there had been a sea-change in Tory women’s concept of themselves, with Baroness Young and Angela Hooper condemning Jilly Cooper for her Sunday Times article, ‘Look, I am a Tory Lady!’ which, with its evocation of tea parties and immaculate tailoring, they felt was decades out-of-date. They also issued a furious condemnation of the six anti-feminist Conservative students who were ejected from the 1981 NUS conference for distributing a leaflet titled ‘The Fallacies of Feminism’, featuring a naked woman.

It’s clear then that the role of women in the Conservative party has changed with the times, and in ways that one might not have predicted. The Conservatives in the twentieth century were capable of accommodating different kinds of femininity and indeed feminism. Although the women’s organisation was always subordinate to the needs of the wider party, Tory women themselves were evolving and asserting their own identity. The records of Tory women’s organisation provide a crucial insight into gender and conservatism in the twentieth century, and should give pause to anyone who would think of modern female Conservatives and ‘Dave’s Darlings’ or mere ‘girls’. It is vital for the modern party to ensure such records are dutifully compiled and available for future historians.

This article was originally published 24 November on The University of Sheffield’s History Matters blog. Read the original article here. It represents the views of the author and not those of Democratic Audit or the LSE. Please read our comments policy before posting.

David Swift has worked with the University of Sheffield’s ‘Rethinking Right-wing Women’ project with the Conservative party archive. His broader research focuses on Britain in the twentieth-century, particularly on left-wing patriotism and working-class conservatism. His first book, For Class and Country: the Patriotic Left and the First World War, will be published by Liverpool University Press in 2016. You can find David on twitter @davidswift87.

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