Records of the Open Door Council

Scope and Content

Annual reports (1926-1938, 1941, 1947-1956, 1959, 1961, 1963-5); agendas and resolutions of Annual Meetings (1948-1963); memoranda (1929-1957); printed leaflets and pamphlets (1926-c.1947)

Administrative / Biographical History

After 1918, women over the age of thirty became entitled to vote for their MP and women's organisations that had previously campaigned for women's suffrage began to concern themselves with a wider range of issues. The sudden mass redundancy of women who had occupied traditionally male-dominated jobs between 1914 and 1918 focussed attention on the issue of women's employment and financial inequality. At the same time, they concerned themselves with the ongoing issue that had first been raised in the previous century: restrictive legislation such as limiting working hours which applied only to women and with the aim of 'protecting' them against industrial exploitation. However, there was no consensus within the movement regarding the appropriate response to protective legislation. An ideological split occurred at this time between those on the one hand who supported ideas such as an 'Endowment of Motherhood' which was intended to be paid to women to ensure their financial independence and, on the other, those who adopted a more strictly equalist position. In the mid-1920s, the Labour government proposed a series of bills which would extend this protective legislation and the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship of the time was being pressurised to change its equalist policies on the issue. In response to this situation, the Open Door Council was established in May 1926 by Lady Rhonnda (Six Point Group), Elizabeth Abbott (National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship ), Miss Clegg (London Society for Women's Service), Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence (Women's Freedom League) and Virginia Crawford (St Joan's Social and Political Alliance). The new groups object was to ensure a woman's opportunities, right to work and to protection at all stages of her life were the same as those of a man. By June 1927, the six members of the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship who resigned over the issue of protective policies had joined this organisation. From its creation, the group intended to organise an international group to further its aims. In its first year, an international committee was formed and in June 1929 it held a conference in Berlin for individuals and organisations concerned with equality within the workplace. From this emerged a group called the Open Door International for the Economic Emancipation of the Woman Worker. The British parent body continued its work through the next decade, from 1933 spearheading the movement for the right of married women to work. During the Second World War, they campaigned on issues such as female volunteers in the Civil Defence Services receiving two-thirds the man's pay and compensation rate provided for by the Personal Injuries (Emergency Provisions) Act of 1939 by traditional constitutional methods: deputations to the appropriate government ministers, public rallies and letters to major newspapers. They were also closely involved in the Equal Compensation Campaign from 1941 to 1943 and subsequently had representatives beside the Six Point Group and the Fawcett Society on the committee of the Equal Pay Campaign from 1944 to ensure equal pay in the Civil Service. The group was finally wound up in 1965.

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This collection is open for consultation. Intending readers are advised to contact The Women's Library in advance of their first visit.

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Related Material

The Women's Library also holds the records of the Open Door International group (GB 106 5/ODI), the National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (GB 106 2/NSE) and the Equal Pay Campaign (GB 106 6/EPC).