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A Woman’s Place: 1910–75

by Ruth Adam
Persephone book no:

19 20 21

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155097

This is, we believe, the most readable overview of twentieth century women’s lives yet written, covering everything Persephone readers might want to know about the suffragettes, early ‘type-writers’, contraception or work in wartime; and it complements our other books by exploring factually what they, indirectly, explore in fiction.

A Woman’s Place 1910–75 was written fifty years ago by a novelist historian and is both human and humane, wise and cynical, polemical and witty. To take one example - having referred to the men coming home after World War Two, and the statistics of women's work in 1945, Adam writes: 'Living in camps and hostels and easting in canteens had created a passion of affection for the ordinary things of home life, for plushy armchairs by the fire and beds with sheets, and clean curtains fluttering in windows from which the black-out had been joyfully ripped down... The young wife who had spent her girlhood as a conscript or a directed worker liked nothing better than the kind of routine which her mother had found so frustrating and imprisoning. She was quite willing to stay at home while the breadwinner turned out in the cold morning dusk, and have an extra cup of tea before she started the housework. It was one of the things she had dreamed of when she had rushed to clock-in herself, or to turn up on parade or clip tickets on the first bus.'

Throughout the book Ruth Adam describes aspects of our grandmother and mother's lives - aspects we think we know about, such as the suffragettes and the Depression and Women's Lib - and yet manages to tell us something quite new about them. Unsentimentally but empathetically she relates the historical and economic truth to the way women felt. 

Ruth Adam concludes, wearily: ‘A woman born at the turn of the century could have lived through two periods when it was her moral duty to devote herself, obsessively, to her children; three when it was her duty to society to neglect them; two when it was right to be seductively "feminine”; and three when it was a pressing social obligation to be the reverse.; three separate periods in which she was a bad wife, mother and citizen for wanting to go out and earn her own living, and three others when she was an even worse wife, mother and citizen for not being eager to do so.’ A Woman’s Place combines the academic and the popular (even the title is a witty and thought-provoking pun) into a work of history quite unlike any other. 


Lucienne Day combined a successful professional life with a domestic one and her ‘Palisade’ (1952) hints at encirclement and fencing-in, while the abstract shapes evoke the domestic. Image © Victoria and Albert Museum, London / Design © Robin and Lucienne Day Foundation

Picture Caption

'Women of Britain, Come into the Factories', Donald Zec 1941

Read What Readers Say

A Persephone reader via Amazon

Her style is engaging, witty, very dry and almost conspiratorial… Adam’s use of original sources and her interpretation of them is always interesting.

Categories: History Politics Teenagers (books for) Working Women

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