...feminist activism in the period could also be seen in the private domestic sphere. Historians have often dismissed the ability of the domestic sphere to be a site of activism in itself. However, an exploration of women’s groups and their focus on domestic issues is telling of the rich activism in the domestic sphere. The 1920s and 1930s saw a marked rise in women’s voluntary groups, particularly those which discussed broader political issues such as attitudes to divorce, birth control and abortion. Debate on these issues became prevalent in the period. For example, throughout the period, the Women’s Co-operative Guild, which represented roughly 27,000 working-class wives, continually argued that cruelty, insanity, and mutual consent should be accepted as grounds for divorce, given that the existing 1957 Divorce Law was marred by inconsistency and made women’s attempts to request divorces largely futile. In response to ongoing pressure from groups like the Women’s Co-operative Guild and the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, which continued to campaign for a wide variety of women’s rights after the passing of the 1928 Representation of the People Act, limited divorce reform was passed in the 1923 Matrimonial Causes Act, giving women the right to sue for divorce on the grounds of adultery.
Women’s voluntary organisations that specifically targeted housewives also engaged in discussions surrounding birth control and contraception. Though many didn’t identify specifically with the word ‘feminism’, they provided key sites for discussion and petitioning parliament about prominent women’s issues of the time. In 1915, the Women’s Co-operative Guild published ‘Maternity: Letters from Working Women’, highlighting the negative physical and emotional effects that frequent childbirth could have on mothers. It suggested birth control as an option for married women to reduce these negative effects. This focus on birth control as a tool to alleviate the burdens faced by married women continued throughout the period, with the creation of the National Birth Control Association in 1930, and the rise of the Abortion Law Reform Association in 1936 to pressure the government into introducing birth control for married women. This focus on alleviating the personal domestic burdens caused by the lack of birth control for wives and mothers in the 1930s signalled a departure from the focus of feminist discourse at the beginning of the interwar years, which primarily discussed women’s changing public roles in the immediate aftermath of the FWW.
Ultimately, the interwar era of feminism can be understood as a period in which activism shifted from public to more private spheres, making it less visible to the general public. However, viewing it as a retraction fails to acknowledge its vibrancy and the groundwork that it did for the more visible form of feminism commonly associated with the ‘second wave’. Indeed, feminist discussions in the interwar period can be seen as setting the groundwork for the idea that ‘the personal is the political’ that is commonly associated with ‘second wave’ feminism.