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Send them to the colonies

The following is an excerpt of a lovely review of Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War By Virginia Nicholson.

Singled OutTHIS is an inspiring book, lovingly researched, well-written and humane. Virginia Nicholson has found one of those subjects which sits unregarded under our noses, and has discovered in it a rich seam of personal and historical interest.

She writes about British spinsters, in particular about the ones that would have married the "lost generation" of the first world war. They were known as the "surplus" women, and the 1921 census revealed that there were 1.75m of them. Since women rarely married outside their class, and since, proportionately, the officer class suffered the greatest losses, it was middle-class women who were hardest hit. Ms Nicholson quotes a headmistress bleakly informing her pupils in 1917 that "only one out of ten of you girls can ever hope to marry...You will have to make your way in the world as best you can."

There had always been spinsters, but on this scale they were something else. Male reaction was hysterical. Marriage and motherhood were what women had always been for. Without them, the abyss opened. They must be shipped to the colonies. The Daily Mail deplored the situation and books on psychology gave warning that the single woman was a danger to society, morality and her own sanity. But the real nightmare was that she might learn to do without men altogether.

Continue reading the review at The Economist.


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