From 1918 until 1979 women were in the majority amongst Conservative Party members and voters, and their support has been widely credited with the Party’s electoral successes in this period.1 Yet while political scientists have attempted to interrogate the factors underpinning this support and its later decline, historians of women’s politics have shown less interest in conservative women.2 Compared with the literature examining varying strands of liberal, socialist and radical feminism and the differences between them, ‘conservative feminism’ remains an under-discussed phenomenon. Olive Banks’ early survey of the social origins of first-wave feminism noted an ‘absence of any close tie’ between the two philosophies. Banks’ interpretation has proved extremely intractable leading, in Barbara Caine’s words, to a scholarly tradition in which the ‘very idea that feminism could be associated with some intellectual frameworks is … hard to accept.’3 Indeed, one rare attempt by a feminist scholar to grapple with the notion of a Conservative feminism was subtitled ‘Why do women vote Tory?’ suggesting that such an allegiance was best viewed as a problem which required investigation.4 Beyond feminist history the scant attention paid to women and the Conservative Party in political histories of the inter and post-war periods has replicated this position, presenting female conservatism as unexpected and perplexing.
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