Matthew Hendley, Department of History, recently published a chapter titled “Conservative Women and the Primrose League’s Struggle for Survival, 1914-1932,” in Julie Gottlieb and Clarisse Berthezene (eds.) Rethinking Right-Wing Women: Women, Gender and the Conservative Party, 1880 to the Present: (Manchester University Press, 2018), pp. 66-88.
This book stems from a conference organized in 2015 at Oxford University on gender and the British Conservative Party at which Dr. Hendley presented a paper.
Dr. Hendley’s chapter investigates the post-war experiences of the Primrose League, a supposedly nonpartisan organization created in the Victorian period and credited as a pioneer for women’s involvement in British politics. At its peak, the Primrose League had over 2 million members (many of them female) and was well known for its canvassing in support of the Conservative Party during elections as well as a wide range of popular social activities, including garden fetes and whist drives.
Dr. Hendley re-examines the assumption that the Primrose League had no place in British political culture after women first gained the national vote in 1918 and the Conservative Party began organising its own women’s organizations. He argues that rather than fading away after the war and becoming a redundant collection of “superfluous women”, the League helped build Conservative support by becoming an agency for political education for new voters (especially women) and a vehicle for sometimes strident anti-socialist Conservative opinion. It also became a strong voice for a consumption-driven feminised vision of popular imperialism. In these ways, the Primrose League remained a useful weapon for the Conservative cause throughout the 1920s (if reduced from its pre-1914 glory days).