University of Leicester
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Singularly single: Cultural representation and experience of the ‘spinster’ and the unmarried mother in the long 1950s

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posted on 2012-03-26, 11:14 authored by Joanna K. Dixon
This is a study which investigates the forms of femininity both available to, and created by, certain unmarried women in the immediate post-war period 1945-1965 in Britain. Utilizing varied historical and literary approaches the study conducts a detailed analysis of a variety of contemporary texts and sources including film, fiction, autobiography and oral testimony, as well as archival material. It examines how portrayals of the post-war unmarried woman increasingly resisted or re-articulated traditional notions of femininity and the feminine role, and how different types of independent women (‘spinsters’, single-mothers, career/working women) were able to develop and explore potential femininities through the creative use of cultural texts and other opportunities available to them. The study questions prevalent assumptions that the era was a low point for feminism, evidencing instead a contemporary awareness amongst many women that the war, and certain developments in the preceding two decades, had significantly challenged the validity of traditional gender dynamics. The study demonstrates how, as opportunities for employment and social provision expanded for post-war women, the feminine norm of the stay at home ‘wife and mother’ became unstable, producing conditions in which unmarried women might imagine alternative feminine identities and Second Wave Feminism might come into being.


Arts and Humanities Research Council



Parker, Emma; Gunn, Simon

Date of award


Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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