Women’s Voluntary Action: Social Investigations into Poverty and health 1900-1940

Penn, Alison (2018). Women’s Voluntary Action: Social Investigations into Poverty and health 1900-1940. In: Voluntary Action History Society 25th Anniversary Conference, 13-15 Jul 2018, University of Liverpool.


This paper focuses on three influential women’s voluntary organisations which worked to address family poverty, during the period around the first world war and inter war period. The work and achievements are contextualised within the shifting debates about the legitimate roles of the state, market and voluntary sectors in meeting social needs.

The organisations were: The Fabian Women’s Group; the Women’s Co-operative Guild; and the Women’s Health Enquiry Committee. All three organisations were led by women and they investigated poverty and women's health following the tradition of social investigation set by social reformers such as Charles Booth and Seebohm Rowntree. The work they did and the reports they produced are sources which convey women’s own views about their conditions. This paper focuses on the reports: Round about a pound a week (1913) by Maud Pember-Reeves from the FWG; Maternity: Letters from Working Women (1915) and Life as we have known it (1931) by Margaret Llewelly-Davis of the CWG; and Working Class Wives: their health and conditions (1939) by Margery Spring-Rice of the WHEC.

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