Skip to main content

Newby McCabe

Political activism between ‘dinner and tea’: Labour women and the problem of participation

Political activism between ‘dinner and tea’: Labour women and the problem of participation in the Department of History


My doctoral research changes our understanding of the women’s section of the interwar Labour Party, exploring not what role women played within the party but what role the party played in their lives.

It considers women’s experience within the section primarily from a social and cultural, rather than political, perspective. In doing so, it highlights the benefits women were able to leverage from their membership, in spite of the many organisational weakness which limited their opportunity for ‘real’ political influence.

From the outset, I have been interested particularly in the role which leisure and education played and how women used their membership to fulfil these needs.

In leisure, women met with likeminded housewives and mothers, building communities within which they sustained and supported one another. There, they arranged and accessed opportunities for recreation outside of the home, chances the were able to enjoy both independently and alongside their families. 

In education, women took the chance to engage in real opportunities to develop, as well as designing programmes which were appropriate to their needs and interests. At a local level, they built lending libraries, trained for and took part in debates, and invited regular speakers. Regionally, they arranged residential schools which were rare opportunities to enjoyed focused learning (and leisure) time away from home. 

In a period where the opportunities for married women to engage with structured opportunities for leisure and education were limited, my research demonstrates the extraordinary steps they often took to assert and claim these rights. Their participation was no less political, but often focussed on how party membership could improve their daily lives and offer them opportunities as well partisan concerns. 

In this sense, my research closely aligns with the historiography of other forms of associational movements in this period, particularly those which targeted women. 

My research uses a range of party records, which include organiser reports, papers, and publications. However, as this is primarily a study from below, its main focus is the under-utilised resource of the records of local sections across the country. 

Research interests

  • Gender History
  • History of Education
  • History of Leisure
  • Modern British History
  • The culture of Social & Political Movements