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townswomen's guilds

townswomen's guilds, emerging out of the women's suffrage movement and modelled on the remarkably successful rural women's institutes, were founded in 1928 with a programme of ‘comradeship, arts and crafts and citizenship’ for the urban ordinary housewife. Similarly non-party and non-sectarian, with a firm framework, their social and educational emphasis was reassuring, and guilds burgeoned throughout the UK. During the Second World War, their monthly magazine the Townswoman, which aided continuity, offered practical advice and encouragement, while the extent of poverty and degradation revealed by the evacuation programme encouraged subsequent public and social welfare interests. Pioneering work in adult education was accompanied by organizational strengthening and overseas links, but membership began to fall in the 1970s as structural rigidity came under challenge and younger women failed to come forward. Learning how to serve had begun to yield to women's changing aspirations and increasing economic emancipation.

A. S. Hargreaves

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