Working Women: The Agents of Welfare and Social Justice 1930s–1960s: deadline 30 June 2021

Date / time: 9 December - 10 December, 12:00 am

Working Women: The Agents of Welfare and Social Justice 1930s–1960s: deadline 30 June 2021


Labour demands during the Second World War and the rise of post-war welfare states shaped women’s experiences in the workplace across the world. Women constituted a substantial section of the workforce: paid women’s work expanded, more flexible employment was required, and the demand for reliable childcare quickly arose. This situation challenged the traditional hierarchies in families opening up a path towards democratisation and equality within family life. The war brought about substantial change with respect to all of this.

The post-war social order was a reaction to the experience of war, but not particularly to women’s experiences. The notion of social redistribution, which T. H. Marshall defined as a general reduction of social risks along with increased equality among the population, characterised the challenges that states faced after the war. However, he was hardly sensitive in terms of gender. Women’s experiences of demobilisation were rather similar across Europe, but post-war states dealt with the challenges of reconstruction in different ways, depending on political order, cultural traditions, and social and economic circumstances.

Women are usually described, in historiography, as an object of wartime and post-war state policies, mobilised and reemployed or returned to home if needed. We know how the lack of governmental support or, on the contrary, its abundance, affected the involvement of women into the working process. But this is only one side of the post-war return to normality. The other side is the perspective from below.

At our workshop, we intend to look at the Second World War and the post-war period as the entangled history of women’s agency. We want to ask what motivations, ambitions and career goals did women emerge from the war years with? How did the Second World War affect women’s sense of their welfare rights and to what extent did women themselves play a role in welfare and social justice during the transition to a post-war Europe?

We want to place wage-earning women (mothers, childless, married) in the centre and look deeper into women’s strategies for changing their own social/working conditions as well as improving welfare provision for their families. In which situations and for what purpose did women raise their voice and participate in negotiations regarding welfare demands and social justice? How and when did they come up with the demand for equal opportunities to work or to stay at home, the right to a fair wage, the improvement of working conditions, or the right to childcare for working mothers?

We welcome contributions from across a variety of humanities and social sciences such as history, sociology or anthropology addressing the Second World War and post-war period either in the state socialist ‘East’ or the democratic capitalist ‘West’ to bridge the conventional distinction of Europe and the world of that time. But we also encourage participants working on non-European cases from the Global South.

Confirmed participants already include Dr Celia Donert and Dr Helen McCarthy (both University of Cambridge).

Contributions may include (but are not limited to):

  • Women in/and Trade unions: trade unions as a protector of women’s rights or suspicious male organisation?
  • Women in the workplace: everyday experiences, everyday struggles.
  • Making sense of women’s rights: wage-earning women’s interests and voices in favour of welfare and labour rights.
  • Working mothers as promoters of democratic principles within families.
  • Social welfare and female and male performativity in the workplace.

We will ask participants to deliver their papers ahead of the workshop to stimulate debate.To apply to participate in the workshop, please send an abstract of 300 words and a short bio to and The application deadline is June 30, 2021.


  • 30 June 2021| Deadline for submission of abstracts
  • 20 July | Notification of abstract acceptance
  • 15 November | Submission of full papers
  • 9–10 December | Workshop date

Contact: Dr Radka Šustrová,