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From danger and motherhood to health and beauty: health advice for the factory girl in early Twentieth-Century Britain

By Vicky Long and Hilary Marland


A survey of government reports and the archives and journals of other agencies interested in industrial health in early twentieth-century Britain has led us to conclude that, in addition to apprehension about the potentially harmful impact of industrial work on the reproductive health of women, there was a great deal of interest in the health of young, unmarried girls in the workplace, particularly the factory. Adopting a broader time frame, we suggest that the First World War, with its emphasis on the reproductive health of women, was an anomalous experience in a broader trend which stressed the growing acceptability of women's work within industry. Concern with girls' health and welfare embraced hygiene, diet, exercise, recreation, fashion and beauty within and outside of the workplace, as well as the impact of the boredom and monotony associated with industrial work. The health problems of young women workers tended to be associated with behaviour and environment rather than biology, as were anxieties about the impact of work on morals, habits and character. Efforts to ensure that young female factory workers would be equipped to take their place as citizens and parents, we argue, often dovetailed rather than diverged with the ‘boy labour’ question

Topics: DA, RA
Publisher: Oxford University Press
Year: 2009
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