Labour Women in Power

© SpringerCabinet Ministers in the Twentieth Century
By Paula Bartley
23rd May
£22.99 | 24.99 € | $29.99 | Softcover |


New book Labour Women in Power charts the progress of women from housebound to House of Commons success

In 1910, women working in Yorkshire’s textile mills were discovered to have children by their brothers, children sold into prostitution and as many as 13 pregnancies by the age of 19.

These were the findings of Margaret Bondfield during research for the Women’s Industrial Council. A former shop worker herself, she became the first female Trade Union Council chair and, in 1929, Britain’s first female cabinet minister. However, her time in office was dogged by the country’s slide into industrial depression and the firsts she achieved did not spark the upward trajectory for women for which many had hoped.

Over nearly 100 years, Bondfield was one of only five women appointed to a Labour cabinet, the same number who were appointed in a single government in 1997. In contrast, nearly 100 men were appointed to Labour cabinets over the same period. The stories of each of these five women are unique and this book tells them through the historical lens of the prevailing political and social landscape. 

“Labour party women aspiring to the pinnacle of cabinet minister in the twentieth century faced a triple handicap,” says author Paula Bartley. “They had to be selected for winnable seats to be elected as MPs, they needed a Labour party in government and they needed a prime minister sympathetic to advancing women. Conservative women may have fared even worse, with only two women appointed to cabinet posts until 1979, but the combined impact of these obstacles makes the high office achieved by Labour’s first five cabinet ministers remarkable.”

Bartley charts how they made a mark out of all proportion to their numbers. Margaret Bondfield’s work as a trade unionist improved the lives of working-class women; Ellen Wilkinson gave working-class children opportunities they had never experienced before; Barbara Castle fearlessly advocated equal pay, resulting in the Equal Pay Act; Judith Hart, the first woman paymaster general, cancelled third world debt; and Shirley Williams is seen as one of the few honest and authentic faces in a political world often regarded as mendacious and insincere.

“Labour’s first five female cabinet ministers helped make Britain and other parts of the world a better place for all, not just for the privileged,” says Bartley.




About the author
​Paula Bartley
is a feminist historian who has written widely on, and promoted, women’s history.

For more information or to get in touch with the author please contact:
Rebecca Krahenbuhl – Communications Manager, Palgrave Macmillan
rebecca.krahenbuhl@palgrave.com, +44 020 7014 6634