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Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War

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After the First World War a generation of women who believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were simply not enough men left to go round. Tracing their fates, Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war years had to depend on herself and, in doing so, helped change society.


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After the First World War a generation of women who believed marriage to be their birthright discovered that there were simply not enough men left to go round. Tracing their fates, Nicholson shows how the single woman of the inter-war years had to depend on herself and, in doing so, helped change society.

30 review for Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War

  1. 4 out of 5

    Antonomasia

    This book isn't exactly short of faults, but it's incredibly companionable. Problems - As several others have said, it's repetitive. I read the book in two chunks almost a year apart which reduced the effect - though by no means completely. Nicholson, a great-niece of Virginia Woolf, has tried to organise the book into themed chapters, but in order to try and present a rounded picture of life for many women, some ordinary diarists, others [semi] famous, who feature, details already mentioned unde This book isn't exactly short of faults, but it's incredibly companionable. Problems - As several others have said, it's repetitive. I read the book in two chunks almost a year apart which reduced the effect - though by no means completely. Nicholson, a great-niece of Virginia Woolf, has tried to organise the book into themed chapters, but in order to try and present a rounded picture of life for many women, some ordinary diarists, others [semi] famous, who feature, details already mentioned under one theme keep appearing in other chapters. -Despite information about some of these ladies being repeated, there was still frustratingly little about many of them: people about whom I wouldn't necessarily want to read a whole biography, but easily 20+ pages. Perhaps the strangest material to leave out was about Victoria Drummond, the first female marine engineer, who began her maritime career just after WWI. Whilst it was possible to understand how everyone else achieved their careers, I couldn't imagine sailors of that period accepting a woman as part of the crew, no matter her personality or talent. They did, with a little grumbling - but I had to find out the longer story from Wikipedia. There is less information online about Beatrice Gordon Holmes, the first female stockbroker, another great character from this book I'd like to hear more about, though at least there's a little more about her in the pages of Singled Out. - Whilst Nicholson does highlight and criticise the ways in which media disparaged unmarried women in the interwar period (quite illogically as they had access to population statistics which would indicate it wasn't possible for a lot of them to marry) I felt that at times she leant too much towards pity in the narrative. Most of the women of the WWI generation had of course been brought up to expect marriage to be at the centre of their lives; some, of their own accord, didn't agree and for them the war was always massively liberating. Some grew to love a different way of life. Many others did experience a sense of loss and dislocation. It may be kind of tricky to reflect the times well and not feel sorry for them, but I would have opted for less of that kind of commentary whilst not omitting direct quotes to explain how these women felt. - Nicholson appears to consider maternal instinct and the desire for children as a biological norm. (There are still women featured here who said they never felt any maternal instinct and they are not in the least criticised.) Okay, this isn't a sociology book, but she never speculates as to what extent it was the result of conditioning - of being brought up to expect to have children, or would have been there regardless, and whether the extent of this may vary between individuals. - I think she actually adds pity to the stories of women who never had or loved another man after their beau / fiance died, or in a few cases, jilted them. Regardless that they did plenty of other things with their subsequent lives, this way of being seems to be looked down on now as a failure - for no good reason other than social convention. Ladies who eventually settled with someone else seem to get more praise - yet they are all people who lived their lives in a way that they felt best. - I would have liked to see more material about competitive sportswomen. Positives - Simply, it was great hearing about a lot of interesting women - and often their own writing about their lives - who were either entirely unfamiliar, or whom I only vaguely knew of (e.g Winifred Holtby, a couple of the archaeologists. Though I'd already heard a lifetime's worth about Gladys Aylward *yawn* at school.) - I find everything to like about the feminism of this period, and it was nice and almost odd to get misty-eyed about some of these women's achievements - such contrast with the anger I often feel towards current internet feminism and its infinitely petty squabbles. As well as various individuals in pioneering careers, I admired those who campaigned for statutory rights, such as the Spinsters' Pensions Association (and felt disappointed in contemporary feminists' failure to exert more pressure over practical issues that would make a difference to a lot of ordinary women, such as childcare provision and lower fees on a par with many other European countries). - Nicholson does her best to cover the experiences of women of all classes, and appears to make the most of the smaller amount of evidence about those in manual occupations. - The book acknowledges the evils of the colonial era at various points, but understands the spirit of its subjects and the times by creating a sense of adventure, far more than guilt, around travel. - It's never twee and isn't part of frilly neo-domesticity. -Whilst there are a few people discussed who must have been very difficult to live with, the author never labels them. Perhaps the implication is that commentators of the period made enough criticism of women who didn't fit in, without adding to it. - There is really quite a lot of material about lesbian (and a few bisexual) women, both those who were as out and proud as you could be in the twenties, and those who simply appeared to live together as two respectable ladies sharing expenses. There are a lot of very interesting women among the famous names and the big achievers and I found myself wishing I'd heard more about these when I was younger - absolutely excellent counterexamples to to Camille Paglia's characterisation of the lesbian scene as intellectually and aesthetically dull, which had a disproportionate influence on me in my teens and early twenties. - The achievements of the generation of "Surplus Women", who broke down many barriers, makes it evident just how instrumental the First World War was for British feminism. (This is an entirely British, and 99% English, book.) Not only via women's work during the war - but all these women afterwards who, unable to marry, had to have jobs and create an independent way of life. They took the ball and ran with it. - All the stories of the women who lived on a shoestring, the "business girls" and teachers and carers are incredibly companionable if you are sitting reading whilst eating special offer cheese on toast, sitting by the tumble dryer to keep warm and such. For all that I've written more here about the women who had extraordinary lives, the majority gets more space. And regardless of its faults, Singled Out presents a sense of 'how to be' that works if, for whatever reason, you don't have the kind of single life that's likely to conform to glamorous contemporary ideals. Its resolute focus on real experience rather than image is part of that.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Samar

    Not a bad read, though often repetitive and sometimes idealistic. I could not escape the feeling that the author was often imposing her own (wishful)interpretation on the lives of the single women she chronicles. Concluding her brief narration of the life of feminist activist Cicely Hamilton, the writer states confidently, "..surely Cicely Hamilton never cast a backward glance at the kitchen,the nursery or even the drawing-room, or sighed for a married life that was never to be. Didn't that sen Not a bad read, though often repetitive and sometimes idealistic. I could not escape the feeling that the author was often imposing her own (wishful)interpretation on the lives of the single women she chronicles. Concluding her brief narration of the life of feminist activist Cicely Hamilton, the writer states confidently, "..surely Cicely Hamilton never cast a backward glance at the kitchen,the nursery or even the drawing-room, or sighed for a married life that was never to be. Didn't that sense of a cause greater than herself, a glorious mission, suffuse her with idealistic pasions every bit as heated as the ardour that burns between two lovers?" Surely, Ms Nicholson, you jest. Surely, you cannot in all seriousness reduce human needs to this either/or dichotomy that you try to convince us must, surely, work, for these bachelorettes of the early 1920's? And surely, you wouldn't dare draw out the same conclusion if you were chronicling the lives of bachelors who, by some accident in history, were forced to endure a life without women as spouses or partners? Despite the rich detail and seemingly arduous research that went into this book, the author shoots herself in the foot by trying to hard to convince us that out of hardship blossoms opportunity, and that perhaps the two million English women left without husbands or partners beginning the early 1920's ended up better off than those who married. She makes a convincing case that it was the imposed singlehood that allowed these women to pave the way for the changes that eventually led women in the latter part of the century to be emancipated. This may be true, but she cannot overlook the fact that these woman must have paid a terrible price for this, in years of solitude and loneliness and fear for their futures. This kind of suffering is not easily uncovered in historical research, and although the author does quote extensively from the memoirs written by some of these women in their old age, the kind of suffering they would have endured is not such they would have readily admitted, not to their friends, companions, and relatives, and perhaps not overtly in their memoirs. Yes, the accomplishments of many of these women can be dug out, listed, and admired, but their real story, will, for the most part, never be told

  3. 5 out of 5

    Barbara

    What a fascinating book! Using letters, autobiographies, novels, and her own interviews, Virginia Nicholson explores the lives of the Surplus Women of the Great War. Of course, I've known about the huge numbers of war dead and the permanently wounded, but somehow I'd never spent much time thinking about the women they left behind. If I thought of them at all, I suppose I assumed they mourned their lost husbands/fiancés/boyfriends for a period of time and then moved forward in their lives. I'd ne What a fascinating book! Using letters, autobiographies, novels, and her own interviews, Virginia Nicholson explores the lives of the Surplus Women of the Great War. Of course, I've known about the huge numbers of war dead and the permanently wounded, but somehow I'd never spent much time thinking about the women they left behind. If I thought of them at all, I suppose I assumed they mourned their lost husbands/fiancés/boyfriends for a period of time and then moved forward in their lives. I'd never really considered that many would never marry simply because there weren't enough men available. Very interesting to read about their lives as (usually) underpaid workers, aunts who were expected to be free to babysit whenever called upon, lonely women who joined forces with other lonely women (perhaps lesbians, perhaps not, but usually assumed to be and made fun of for it). They were also resented for "stealing" men's jobs, even though they were forced into employment because they had to support themselves. There were a lot of sad stories in this book. However, there were also many stories of personal success--women who found great satisfaction in their lives as singletons, who became pioneers in careers and who helped change society in ways that have helped improve our own lives. A history that deserves to be told. I'm very glad to have read it.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Aitziber

    Wartime has a way of causing social change, particularly before nuclear warfare, when soldiers did a lot of the fighting. As such, the death of thousands of British soldiers of prime marrying age in World War I resulted in around two million women who would never find a husband. There simply weren't enough men to marry. That was a generation of women who had been brought up to see marriage as the only option for a decent woman, whose only examples of single women were sexless, unfulfilled, butto Wartime has a way of causing social change, particularly before nuclear warfare, when soldiers did a lot of the fighting. As such, the death of thousands of British soldiers of prime marrying age in World War I resulted in around two million women who would never find a husband. There simply weren't enough men to marry. That was a generation of women who had been brought up to see marriage as the only option for a decent woman, whose only examples of single women were sexless, unfulfilled, buttoned Fräulein Rottenmeiers. It was now up to them to figure out how to fit in a country that would rather see them leave England and marry abroad, before they'd cease to ostracize them, start paying them living wages, or allowing them to study alongside men. Nicholson's book covers the gamut of female experience. From the working class women who had to care for their parents on a meager salary, to the trailblazing women who made strides in careers previously reserved to men, and made it easier for women that came after them. Social activists such as Florence White, and the nannies of the titled class who sublimated their desire for children into their charges. If you want to read about a whole lot of women working and living on their own, this is your book. Writers, models, teachers, engineers, it's got them all. As a look into how hard women in the 30s had it, Singled Out is great. It paints a very complete picture of the way these women were oppressed. For instance, teachers were paid a lot less than men per year, because it was assumed that men had to take care of a family, while paying single women too much may drive them to spend what remained after bills in useless stuff, such as dresses. The possibility that women may also have a family of their own to feed was non-existent. Female teachers were fired when they married, which drove many of them dating men of little means to have to live in sin. They risked exposure and scandal, which would have led them to be fired anyway. I found it to be a very inspiring book. While possibilities for women have certainly improved, we still live in a culture that's enamored with marriage and babies. Reading Singled Out will, I'm sure, give any woman thinking of staying single (or divorcing!) role models, confidence that it can be done, and even a wide variety of careers and lifestyles to consider. (Unless you want to be a wet nurse. I don't know that those are in such high demand anymore.) If there's anything to reproach Singled Out for, and other reviews have mentioned it, is how repetitive it is for a good chunk of the book (easily one third, perhaps even half). The reader will be constantly reminded that hundreds of thousands of men died or disappeared, that there was a national debate about the Surplus Women, and that women were inconsolable when the man they envisioned marrying died in service. On the other hand, I was hoping that the book would not ignore lesbian women, and it did not disappoint. There's a long section about women such as Radclyffe Hall and how they dealt with a society that both pushed women to share living arrangements (see: lower salaries for women), while very much looking down on homosexuality. For those interested in Women's Studies, this is a good book with some tortured prose.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melanie Baker

    An interesting look at the consequences of history-shaping events. In this case, due to the carnage of WWI, after there were ~2 million "Surplus Women" in Britain -- a major gender disparity due to the number of men killed in the war. As a result, few of these women would ever marry and have families (which was what women were *for* in those days). Additionally, the numbers of dead were much higher in certain echelons of society, i.e. the young men of the upper classes were more likely to become An interesting look at the consequences of history-shaping events. In this case, due to the carnage of WWI, after there were ~2 million "Surplus Women" in Britain -- a major gender disparity due to the number of men killed in the war. As a result, few of these women would ever marry and have families (which was what women were *for* in those days). Additionally, the numbers of dead were much higher in certain echelons of society, i.e. the young men of the upper classes were more likely to become officers, and thus more likely to die, being at the front of so many charges with their men. As a result, marriage prospects were even more bleak for upper class young women who, even more than working class women, were expected to marry, bear children and... well, not really do much else of anything. Societially spinsters were often derided, seen with pity or contempt, mocked, and viewed with suspicion. Often they were even blamed for their spinster states, which makes about as much sense as you'd expect from "society". The wealthy had some freedom from this that money brings, though in the upper classes they had their own prisons of opinion given that expectations were generally even more rigid. However, the lack of availability of traditional lifestyles meant that, for some women at least, they could pursue careers and lives unthinkable even 20 years before. Earning PhDs, running companies, travelling the world... Of course, at the same time, many, many women lived in poverty, earning little and working endless hours in often deplorable conditions at the low-end jobs (often clerical or retail) that they were qualified for, and living in what was frequently squalor in rented lodgings. All these things led to vast societal change, however. Women crusaded for pensions for spinsters -- before, you could work your whole life and be entitled to nothing on retirement, when a woman who was married for even one day was entitled to a comfortable pension if her husband was killed in the war. The suffrage movement really became a force at this time as well. And, of course, simply being tired of war and death and the still-clinging tendrils of Victorian society, people -- but women especially -- cast off many restrictions, and hiked their skirts, cropped their hair, got educated and built careers, and went drinking, dancing, and had love affairs. (And basically once the horse was out of the barn, there was no putting it back...) All in all, there's a fair bit of repetition in the book, about the prejudices the women faced, about the loneliness and longing many never really got over, etc. And it can be a really depressing read. Especially when you realize that, in certain ways, not that much has changed in nearly 100 years. However, given that time period is History now, that any of those women left are centenarians, and that it's been over six decades since the end of WWII, it's fascinating to try and wrap your brain around that world and what normal life looked like compared to now.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ainsley

    A fascinating read - I knew of this part of history, but had never really researched it or thought through any of the ramifications. I found it both moving and thought-provoking (imagine being told by your headmistress, at a time when it was so taken for granted that girls would marry that it was near impossible to think of any other way of life, that nine out of ten of them leaving school would remain single for life...not unlike a university graduate nowadays being informed that the job market A fascinating read - I knew of this part of history, but had never really researched it or thought through any of the ramifications. I found it both moving and thought-provoking (imagine being told by your headmistress, at a time when it was so taken for granted that girls would marry that it was near impossible to think of any other way of life, that nine out of ten of them leaving school would remain single for life...not unlike a university graduate nowadays being informed that the job market was such that he/she would be guaranteed to spend the rest of life on the dole). My only objection is with some of the examples from popular culture of the time - Dorothy L. Sayers, for instance, is pegged as unsympathetic/mocking toward single women on the basis of one sentence in "Gaudy Night" about a badly dressed Oxford graduate, while recurring characters like Miss Climpson, Letitia Martin, Harriet Vane's friends Sylvia and Eilunedd, etc etc, are ignored. Yes, it's a small point, but when an author does this it makes me wonder a) what other 'facts' that I'm not so familiar with have been adjusted, and b) was the rest of the research that careless?

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I just realised that I forgot to do a review for this one when I finished it a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting, if at times sad, read. It made me very grateful that I live now, with life being better in general for both married and single women. It was sad to read about the women who wanted a husband and family and felt that they had lost their sense of purpose without this path. But it was also inspiring to read about the women who viewed the lack of men as an opportunity to succeed I just realised that I forgot to do a review for this one when I finished it a couple of weeks ago. It was an interesting, if at times sad, read. It made me very grateful that I live now, with life being better in general for both married and single women. It was sad to read about the women who wanted a husband and family and felt that they had lost their sense of purpose without this path. But it was also inspiring to read about the women who viewed the lack of men as an opportunity to succeed in their chosen areas of work, against all the odds, and mostly without the approval of society.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands after the Great War. Read by Miriam Margolyes. 1/5. Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands. 2/5. Not all men are happy with the amount of spinsters after the Great War. 3/5. True story of the women left alone after the Great War. The 1920s was a brave new world. 4/5. True story of the women left alone after the Great War. Exclusion led women to pair up. 5/5. It takes a valiant wo Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands after the Great War. Read by Miriam Margolyes. 1/5. Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands. 2/5. Not all men are happy with the amount of spinsters after the Great War. 3/5. True story of the women left alone after the Great War. The 1920s was a brave new world. 4/5. True story of the women left alone after the Great War. Exclusion led women to pair up. 5/5. It takes a valiant woman to remain unmarried. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00jvy2t

  9. 4 out of 5

    Shatterlings

    I really enjoyed this, these women were remarkable characters with their passion for life, their cats and their eccentricities. I would have liked to have met them. I will now say that " marriage would have eclipsed my unusual talents". Or " that anyone can get married but it takes a good valiant woman to remain unmarried".

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jenna

    This is both a well-written and interesting cultural history/gender studies history of women in the post-war years and also highlight some of the potential problems the besiege historians trying to accurately portray life during/after the war and how "accuracy" sometimes wars with perceptions and memories of the war. I think, as far as I can tell, the perception that Britain had lost a generation of its best men (often cited as the civil servant class) is true. This was the view held both those l This is both a well-written and interesting cultural history/gender studies history of women in the post-war years and also highlight some of the potential problems the besiege historians trying to accurately portray life during/after the war and how "accuracy" sometimes wars with perceptions and memories of the war. I think, as far as I can tell, the perception that Britain had lost a generation of its best men (often cited as the civil servant class) is true. This was the view held both those living through the war/immediately after it and the way it is perceived in predominate cultural memory. Ms. Nicholson is able to pull excellent examples from period journals and articles that support this view. However, some historians, notably Jay Winter, argue that this view, as cherished as it might have been, is not statistically supportable. In passing he noted that the idea that two million without husbands is "nonsense." As he argues in his seminal work, The Great War and the British People: Second Edition, more men actually left Britain (i.e. through emigration), than died in the Great War. Finally, despite using a wide range of sources, this still is largely a history of middle-upper-class women, who were literate and, at least to a degree, educated. While this is not necessarily a draw-back, its bias (however unintentional) needs to be kept in the back of one's mind while reading. The citation of sources, with a few exception, was good, and I appreciated the footnotes. It would be an interesting book to read in tandem with Jay Winters' book or other reassessments.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sally George

    I felt compelled to read this book when I came across this paragraph in the Family Tree Magazine - "In 1917, the senior mistress of the Bournemouth High School for Girls made a sobering announcement to the sixth form assembly: 'I have come to tell you a terrible fact,' she bagan, ominously. 'Only one out of 10 of you girls can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistical fact. Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed.' On a positive note, the mistres I felt compelled to read this book when I came across this paragraph in the Family Tree Magazine - "In 1917, the senior mistress of the Bournemouth High School for Girls made a sobering announcement to the sixth form assembly: 'I have come to tell you a terrible fact,' she bagan, ominously. 'Only one out of 10 of you girls can ever hope to marry. This is not a guess of mine. It is a statistical fact. Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed.' On a positive note, the mistress explained that 'the war has made more openings for women than ever before,' but she cautioned that, 'you will have to struggle'. Unwilling to 'marry down,' many of the young girls would indeed end up as elderly spinsters." After reading the book, I thought of my own family and my Great Aunts. In Scotland, on my father's side Aunty Annie never married and it was said that there were not enough men to go round. She took over the family fish and chip shop business and looked after her disabled brother. All the Aunts on my mother's side in the Lincolnshire fens got married, in fact my Grandmother found a man because of the War. Her brother died in the army out in India from dysentery. The man in the next bed brought his belongings home to the family and my Grandmother married him. This book explains amongst other things how hard it was for women to take a man's job in order to survive. They were looked upon as selfish, even thinking about it, as a man would have a wife and family to provide for.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Robert

    "I should prefer to have been a man: then I could have had a career and marriage too", said Dame Evelyn Sharp, one of the first women to head a government department. Almost two million women more than men left over in Britain after World War One. Most had no hope of marriage, but back then there was so little choice and even women were saying a woman without a husband and children was a failure. Despite that, as Dame Evelyn showed, this was the real era when women's liberation took off. Those t "I should prefer to have been a man: then I could have had a career and marriage too", said Dame Evelyn Sharp, one of the first women to head a government department. Almost two million women more than men left over in Britain after World War One. Most had no hope of marriage, but back then there was so little choice and even women were saying a woman without a husband and children was a failure. Despite that, as Dame Evelyn showed, this was the real era when women's liberation took off. Those that had had jobs and responsibilities during the war did not want to be sent back to the kitchen or nursery, and so, despite all the obstacles, many assumed tasks that were once restricted to men and opened the at for others.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    I loved this book. Usually these social histories have at least one part which sags or just doesn't hold your attention but this kept me entertained all the way through. It is full of great research but it is the individual stories holding the book together which grip you and keep you reading. Just a fascinating period of time - the great sadness of those who lost love in the war, the drudgery of life in a single room, deciding if you could afford to put the heater or or not, the trap of being a I loved this book. Usually these social histories have at least one part which sags or just doesn't hold your attention but this kept me entertained all the way through. It is full of great research but it is the individual stories holding the book together which grip you and keep you reading. Just a fascinating period of time - the great sadness of those who lost love in the war, the drudgery of life in a single room, deciding if you could afford to put the heater or or not, the trap of being a spinster without wanting to be or risking derision for trying to make inroads into male dominated work environments. A thoroughly enjoyable read.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    An absolutely fascinating examination of the "surplus women" of post WW1 England. At the time, many (most) were raised for two purposes - marriage and raise kids. After the massive losses in the war, there simply weren't enough men of "marriageable age," leaving two million women to face a future they had not prepared for. I really enjoyed the exploration into individual lives of several women, scattered throughout the book are vignettes that introduce these ladies and tell their stories. Some are An absolutely fascinating examination of the "surplus women" of post WW1 England. At the time, many (most) were raised for two purposes - marriage and raise kids. After the massive losses in the war, there simply weren't enough men of "marriageable age," leaving two million women to face a future they had not prepared for. I really enjoyed the exploration into individual lives of several women, scattered throughout the book are vignettes that introduce these ladies and tell their stories. Some are heartbreaking, others inspiring, and all are interesting. A very worthwhile read!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Becomes repetitive within the first 100 pages, but does give a unique perspective on a generation of women who went unmarried and had to deal with the mind numbing idiocy of common culture... you can just imagine, the portrayals in the media of the desperate women, the needy ones, and the stereotype of the ones who tried to find happiness outside of societies narrowly defined terms of what happiness as a women SHOULD be. F**k society.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Bettie

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands after the Great War. Read by Miriam Margolyes. Virginia Nicholson's true story of the generation of women left without husbands after the Great War. Read by Miriam Margolyes.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Geraldine

    This book is very strong in its strength and embarrassingly amateur in its area of weaknesses. The writer appears to have done a degree in English Literature, and this is very obvious in her approach. Strengths: It is very readable and benefits from the depth of research - reading of private diaries and memoirs as well as published sources, including some long out of print, and interviews with very elderly women providing rich and vivid first person testament. Often, reading about the achievement This book is very strong in its strength and embarrassingly amateur in its area of weaknesses. The writer appears to have done a degree in English Literature, and this is very obvious in her approach. Strengths: It is very readable and benefits from the depth of research - reading of private diaries and memoirs as well as published sources, including some long out of print, and interviews with very elderly women providing rich and vivid first person testament. Often, reading about the achievements of these women made me very excited and almost envious of their opportunities to spend their life pursuing a vocation despite me knowing that as someone two or three generations younger, I had far more opportunities, partly (largely?) because of their efforts and sacrifices. Some amazing vignettes of the lives of remarkable women, some of whom I should have heard of, but hadn't, some that were little more than names, a few I did know something about already, and others who would never spend any time in the public eye but for this book. She wrote engagingly about these women and gave some sense of the difficulties some of them faced - such as very meagre incomes, and the inbuilt misogyny of society. However, the weaknesses stemmed from her lack of proper academic or professional training in methodology. She comes from a background where it's just assumed that one becomes a writer and, as I note above, she writes exceptionally well. But she has written a book inspired by a statistic, and it is clear, with dull thudding repetitiveness, that she has no idea about statistics or data. Her level of numerical ignorance runs so deep that she doesn't even know that she's ignorant about it, or that there is something to be ignorant about. I would hope that if a Social Scientist wrote a book about demography they would be aware of the importance of sound data and data analysis, but this writer crashes on making so many statistical faux pas that I could write a long review just by listing them. She writes from a position of middle class privilege, having done a degree in a Mickey Mouse subject at a University that selects/selected students on the basis of social class. In the acknowledgements she thanks several friends: I recognised one of the names as being one of the most crushing class based snob in today's news media. The book is inspired by the 1921 census, which confirmed that which was already known - the large number of 'surplus women' caused by the slaughter of men in World War 1. She reports the surplus as 2 million, although that figure is never challenged. She repeats several times the nonsensical warning of the Bournemouth headmistress that only 1 in 10 of her female pupils would marry - and she proves that by citing the anecdotes of two people. She is ignorant of the basic statistical/social science concept of 'confirmation bias'. I have seen reference to that 2 million figure having been debunked, although a quick Google didn't provide for me any specific proof of the debunking. However, she made a passing reference that provided the basis of my first 'so what' question. She mentions that there was half a million surplus women before WW1, because more men than women went to work in the colonies (and other reasons, too, which she didn't mention!) Edit: I have subsequently found an authoritative source that debunks the 2 million figure - it's closer to 1 million, so still remarkable. But the laziness in the author who wasn't capable of questioning lazy clichés really does cast doubt on the reliability of her research - http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/cen... provides a narrative, tables and graphs on the 1921 census. She fails to explain the composition of those 'surplus women'. I don't know from her writing how many of them were elderly widows who may have had children (and, hopefully, not lost them all in the war or flu pandemic) and grandchildren. Nor does she state how many of them were young war widows (or widows through other causes) who had children and perhaps a widow's pension - she makes one reference to the envy of the Surplus Women of war widows living comfortably on a pension. I don't think this author, or any author, should indulge in what-iffery - ie if there hadn't been a War, how many men would have died young anyway, through industrial 'accidents', in road collisions (would car use have become more widespread more quickly?) and the numerous other non-military reasons that young men generally die in greater proportion to young women - or how many extra women survived as a result of not being the victims of domestic violence or dying in childbirth. However, she fails to provide any substantial context. She makes fleeting reference to middle class women who worked long before World War 1, but doesn't offer any statistical analysis for context. And she offers almost no contrast with the lives of married women. She makes sweeping generalisations about married women being forced to stay at home, making a very basic mistake that 'middle class women' = all women. Almost no mention of the reality of many married working class women who weren't barred from the professions because of their gender but, as in the 19th century, continued to work at laborious menial jobs throughout pregnancy and motherhood - in factories and mills, as domestic servants or chars, taking in laundry or 'lodger children', or doing piecework in 'cottage industries' or working on the farm with their husband (and parents in law, and children). Perhaps the figures disguised the high number of men who simply weren't marryable - those with shell shock (and not just those in psychiatric hospitals) and also those with severe disabilities that made them unemployable or disfigurements that made them physically and sexually repulsive. She trivialises their plight in one passing mention. I infer from her general attitude throughout the book that the ones that mattered would have survived on a private income or supported by wealthy family members; the rest, although they were thrown into poverty and suffered greatly in the 1930s Depression, were non-people because they were lower middle or working class, and hadn't even gone to Oxford or Cambridge. And this is the fatal flaw of this book - the focus on mainly middle class women, often from affluent backgrounds, many of whom went to University, and almost total ignoring working class women. Obviously, academics, senior civil servants and teachers will have left documentary evidence of their existence; many of the working class women were barely literate, or if literate, were far less likely to indulge in diary keeping and memoir writing. So, yes, the book was necessarily driven by the availability of source material, but hindered by the writer's blind ignorance of the existence and importance of data. She fails to grasp the basic difference between 'proportion' and 'number' - a greater proportion of ex-public school junior officers were killed, so in Nicholson's mind this means that more women from that class were surplus. It's difficult for me, the casual reader, to provide hard stats on the numbers of people in various classes, especially when classes are ill defined eg is a lowly clerk with little chance of promotion sitting at a desk in an office attached to a factory more similar to the machine operators in the factory or to the solicitors, bankers and country parsons that constitute most of the population in Nicholson's mind? She finishes the book by mourning the loss of ex-Balliol students (Balliol is a college at Oxford University; she assumes that people know that, because, you know, who doesn't!), and speculating whether they would have been a force for change for the good or would have maintained the status quo ante. She doesn't mourn the young men from other Universities, and the Grammar School boys, let alone the majority with limited formal education, who would have pushed forward scientific, technological and medical progress, or as administrators or Trade Unionists, or any number of other occupations may have taken forward the social changes many of which were were already happening or about to happen before WW1. There are other flaws in her methodology. For example, she quotes at some length from Vera Brittain, perhaps more so than any other writer. I re-read Testament of Youth early this year and it's understandable why Nicholson used this as a source. However, as I knew, and as transpires in this book, Brittain wasn't entirely surplus. Yes, she had lost her fiancé in the war (and I'm not the only reader who feels she was more in love with the idea of being in love than she was with a man she barely knew and hardly spent any time with). She spent the years between age 22 and about 30 as a singleton (she married at 31), but she did marry and she did have children. But I also read Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations, and Gertrude Bell gets almost no mention, despite her being a wealthy woman who lived an amazing life as a single woman long before WW1 or indeed before many of these women were born. Other niggles included the author's unquestioning acceptance of Anglicanism as being both universal and right. She praises those women who shared her unquestioning belief, but apart from one temporary loss of faith by one pious individual, there was no mention of how many of these women questioned the established faith that was brainwashed into most of them as children: yet the War directly led to many people questioning or abandoning the religion of the Ruling class, or turning to Spiritualism in unprecedented numbers. To conclude, this book has grandiloquent claims as a social history, but, as I have demonstrated, it is unreliable in this respect. However, it is engaging series of stories about individual people and if that's what you like, I would recommend it highly. Indeed I liked it enough I shall add Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in War and Peace 1939-1949 to my long term reading list. But don't believe any of the 'facts' because this woman has an airey fairey arty farty elitist disdain for them!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sjervey

    This extraordinary book looks at the generation of British women who were left without any prospect of marriage after over 2 million British soldiers were killed or maimed in World War I, women who were callously dismissed by politicians and media as “Surplus Women.” These women were born into a world where it was assumed the only proper role for a woman was as a wife, where unmarried women were derided as “Old Maids,” and where the only job opportunities for these failed wannabe wives were as t This extraordinary book looks at the generation of British women who were left without any prospect of marriage after over 2 million British soldiers were killed or maimed in World War I, women who were callously dismissed by politicians and media as “Surplus Women.” These women were born into a world where it was assumed the only proper role for a woman was as a wife, where unmarried women were derided as “Old Maids,” and where the only job opportunities for these failed wannabe wives were as teachers or nurses. WWI gave them a glimpse of the world of work when their efforts were needed to replace the men who had gone off to fight, but that glimpse was fleeting as some men returned and women were expected to relinquish their jobs to these returned heroes. Most men in planning positions dreaded the thought of all these “surplus women,” unchecked by the maturing roles of wife and mother, yielding to raging hormones and disrupting the domestic tranquility of peacetime England. The women had other ideas. For many, perhaps most, of these women, the war not only deprived them of the chance for marriage, it also deprived them of the loved ones they had confidently expected to marry. They had lost husbands, fiances, intended spouses as well as brothers, cousins and friends. The death toll was staggering. The average life expectancy of a lieutenant was two weeks. The sorrow must have been all-pervasive. The caste system still dominated life. Upper classes filled the ranks of higher officers, lower classes provided privates, corporals and sergeants. The middle classes filled the most dangerous ranks, lieutenants and captains. While lower class losses in the war meant that only enough men survived to provide husbands for four of every ten lower class women, the toll in the middle classes was even more staggering: only one of every ten women had a statistical chance of finding a husband. Despite the sorrow of lost family and friends, first to the war, then to the flu epidemic of 1919, despite the lost hopes and dreams and, in fact, the lost world of their youth, life went on and women forged new paths in every walk of life. A fledgling suffragette movement now had the momentum of an entire generation of women who had to support themselves. Singled Out, describes in largely anecdotal format, the triumphs of many of these women, offering them as examples of what was transpiring throughout England. It is an inspiring survey of the triumph of the human spirit in the face of unprecedented sorrow and tragedy, but is, moreover, a tale of women achieving a new freedom to find themselves because they were the survivors of this sorrow and tragedy. These women found meaningful lives without marriage, without children, precisely because the crumbled world order of their youth was cleared away permitting them new paths. Singled Out is a celebration, of women, of freedom, of hope. There is an underlying current that these successful lives would not have been possible if the women had also been wives and mothers, a current which was certainly correct in that time and in a world where women in careers were in uncharted territory. There is also no room in this volume for a review of how the liberation of women documented here was also liberating for men. The challenge remains of finding paths which allow all to find their own paths, family, career or both. Singled Out is an invaluable look at some of the pioneers to whom we owe so much. P.S. I expect it is the case that similar stories must have emerged in France and Germany, which were similarly devastated by the stupidity of WWI. I would like to find such accounts. It is also the case that many women were overwhelmed by the losses of WWI. I regard Sally Bowles of Cabaret (I Am a Camera) as one such case.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    I found this history of English women who came of age during the First World War--losing brothers, fiancés, husbands, and even just date prospects to the carnage--very compelling. Nicholson presents illuminating narratives, some retrospective from little old ladies she interviewed, some fictional (and often heavily autobiographical), and some autobiographical. She does a wonderful job collating different kinds of evidence (magazine articles about the spinster problem, personal letters and interv I found this history of English women who came of age during the First World War--losing brothers, fiancés, husbands, and even just date prospects to the carnage--very compelling. Nicholson presents illuminating narratives, some retrospective from little old ladies she interviewed, some fictional (and often heavily autobiographical), and some autobiographical. She does a wonderful job collating different kinds of evidence (magazine articles about the spinster problem, personal letters and interviews) with her graceful prose style. I especially liked her book's structure when she addressed a theme (sex, travel, childbearing, and aging parents among them). It was less successful at the end of the book when she started really listing off dozens of accomplished women. It was very striking to me how fortunate we are that models of marriage change because marriage was clearly assumed to be a full time job for women, not just because of the attention it demanded but indeed because of the labor it demanded. Nicholson makes a persuasive case that for middle and upper class women (the main focus of this narrative, though she does talk about working class women as well), living in a generation that produced "spinsters" through wartime attrition actually enhanced the likelihood that these women would conquer different kinds of goals in public life. Nicholson also talks about private questions like companionship, erotic love, and daily fulfillment, and with these questions, she is particularly sensitive and nuanced. My main gripes with the book? The listiness at the end (it's hard not to have your eyes glaze over at rosters of anything, even remarkable women) and also the fact that she doesn't discuss the overwhelming whiteness of her cast of characters. Nicholson addresses her slant in terms of class. She acknowledges that most extant life narratives of women from this generation are from middle class and wealthy English women, so she overtly states that they are her focus. Also, interestingly, more young men of the officer class died during WWI than the regular enlisted men, so these losses were especially transformative for upper class Britons. This is probably akin to the reason that Nicholson focuses on white English women (were minority soldiers allowed in the English Army in WWI?) , but since she does talk about some women of this generation "finding themselves" in Africa, I thought she might have talked more about ethnicity in England at the time. That being said, a very enjoyable book and one that elucidates many different responses to the role of "spinster" between the wars, some iconoclastic and some studiously genteel.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Interesting premise- what happened to all the "surplus" young women post-WWI who would never marry or have children due to the millions of men who died in the war-gets bogged down by an overly narrative format. Each chapter (loosely arranged around a different lifestyle-nanny/governess, business woman, teacher, etc.) introduces several women's stories of how they ended up single (friend, boyfriend, fiancee, husband died in the war) and how they coped with the loss of THE role all women were to a Interesting premise- what happened to all the "surplus" young women post-WWI who would never marry or have children due to the millions of men who died in the war-gets bogged down by an overly narrative format. Each chapter (loosely arranged around a different lifestyle-nanny/governess, business woman, teacher, etc.) introduces several women's stories of how they ended up single (friend, boyfriend, fiancee, husband died in the war) and how they coped with the loss of THE role all women were to aspire back then, often achieving much professional success. As sad as the stories were, it became hard to keep track of all the details.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Bruce Baugh

    I've known for a long time how many men died in World War I - more than a million for Great Britain. But this book is the first sustained study I've read about what that loss meant for British women. There was a generation where the overwhelming majority simply weren't going to be able to marry, and therefore had to build different kinds of lives for themselves. Nicholson surveys the whole spread of outcomes with tremendous respect and admiration: for those who flourished, for those who managed I've known for a long time how many men died in World War I - more than a million for Great Britain. But this book is the first sustained study I've read about what that loss meant for British women. There was a generation where the overwhelming majority simply weren't going to be able to marry, and therefore had to build different kinds of lives for themselves. Nicholson surveys the whole spread of outcomes with tremendous respect and admiration: for those who flourished, for those who managed to build small pockets of satisfaction within dreary (or worse) circumstances, and for those whose lives continue to suffer under unearned, unwarranted, altogether unanticipated miseries. She managed to interview a surprising variety of survivors of that era, women who wrote memoirs and conducted interviews late in the 20th century or even early in the 21st, and their voices add so many human dimensions to the data. In some ways, British society changed dramatically for some of its women, because it had to. In other ways, it didn't, and traditional places for unmarried women became the subject of new, unsought competition. Nicholson excels at avoiding the temptation to ever say that just one kind of experience was the new normal, or even the new ideal. She keeps us aware, with careful attention to chronology, how many different visions of women's desirable lives flourished simultaneously. There are some subjects she'd like to say more on but can't because there simply aren't any accounts, and she resists the urge to speculate a lot. In some cases, we get little glimpses of how women dealt with the loss of early loves. Sometimes women wrote explicitly about the role of love and sex in their long single lives, and Nicholson discusses these insightfully. Sometimes there are tantalizing allusions, and Nicholson does sometimes speculate here, carefully. But where women chose not to speak of love at all, she doesn't belabor her reader with guesses about all the things they might have said - she takes the silence as a kind of statement itself worth taking seriously, and then moves on to other aspects of life. I was by turns fascinated, delighted, appalled, moved to pity and sympathy, and altogether enlightened. I can hardly praise this book highly enough.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Gail Amendt

    I have to admit that I have never given much thought to the demographic imbalance that resulted from the loss of so many young men in WWI, in spite of the fact that two of my great aunts were among the "surplus women" who never married. This book does a great job of examining the lives of some of these surplus women in Britain, and the societal changes that resulted from so many women having to make their way in the world alone. While most had been raised believing that marriage was the only goa I have to admit that I have never given much thought to the demographic imbalance that resulted from the loss of so many young men in WWI, in spite of the fact that two of my great aunts were among the "surplus women" who never married. This book does a great job of examining the lives of some of these surplus women in Britain, and the societal changes that resulted from so many women having to make their way in the world alone. While most had been raised believing that marriage was the only goal for respectable young women, the generation who came of marriageable age during and immediately after WWI had to accept that marriage was not particularly likely for them. As they sought to create a niche for themselves and find ways to support themselves, they gave rise to the women's movement that transformed society throughout the 20th Century. The author tells the stories of many of these women, from many walks of life. It does get a bit repetitive at times, and the author is sometimes guilty of romanticizing and over-simplifying the feelings and motivations of these women. I also wish that there had been more working class women featured in this book, but, as the author explains, there is simply more research material about the middle and upper classes as they tended to write about their experiences more. These stories made me think of and appreciate my great aunts. Of the four girls in my grandmother's family, only two were to marry...my grandmother, who was one of the lucky ones of her generation, and my aunt May, who was somewhat younger than the generation of surplus women. My aunt Mabel, the oldest, lost her fiance in the war and spent her life in domestic service, mostly as a cook in a large wealthy household. Aunt Alice also never married, and made her living as a dressmaker, ironically spending most of her time making beautiful wedding gowns for other brides. I'm not sure that without this family connection I would have enjoyed this book so much, as I feel it made it easier to relate to the women in the stories, but I think I would. I'm definitely glad I read this unique perspective on WWI, which serves to remind us that soldiers, widows and orphans are not the only casualties of war.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Martin Samuels

    This is a good book, but it could have been an excellent one. The author looks at the women left behind after the First World War, exploring all aspects of their lives, from the initial sense of loss, through their working lives, home lives, sex lives, and place in society. She uses an impressionistic style, drawing on extended examples from individuals' experience, in order to paint a sense of the experience of the 'surplus women' generally. This is an often forgotten group and the book provide This is a good book, but it could have been an excellent one. The author looks at the women left behind after the First World War, exploring all aspects of their lives, from the initial sense of loss, through their working lives, home lives, sex lives, and place in society. She uses an impressionistic style, drawing on extended examples from individuals' experience, in order to paint a sense of the experience of the 'surplus women' generally. This is an often forgotten group and the book provides a valuable insight into the aspect of social history. Well worth reading. However, the book could have been so much more, had it been written with greater rigour. There are two aspects to this. First, the impressionistic style means that some of the details are a bit unclear. The author makes several statements about the number of 'surplus women', but gives only a vague idea of just how many there actually were. She also draws on examples and texts from before the war and through the Twenties and Thirties, seemingly using them indiscriminately, so there is only a limited sense of how attitudes changed over the period. More seriously, there is little attempt made to put the situation of these women into any context. While there may have been two million single women in 1921, was that really a much larger number than before the war? How did their experience contrast with that of women in France or Germany, both countries that suffered far higher rates of mortality in the war? Or with that of widows, whether with or without children, in Britain? Or with the equivalent generation of 'surplus women' after the Second World War (where the mortality rate among the upper and upper middle classes was not dissimilar to that in the First World War)? Exploration of any or all of these perspectives would have given the book much greater depth and taken it from being merely a good work to an excellent one. But it remains a good book and well worth reading.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Korri

    Being a working girl is tough. Melanie Griffith and Dolly Parton may have thought they had it rough in Working Girl and 9 to 5 but, as those movie came out well before Virginia Nicholson graced us with her well-researched account of English women's lives in the wake of the First World War, I'll forgive them. It couldn't have been easy to realize that though you were raised to believe marriage and making babies was your lot in life, you'd never do so because all the eligible men (of your class) w Being a working girl is tough. Melanie Griffith and Dolly Parton may have thought they had it rough in Working Girl and 9 to 5 but, as those movie came out well before Virginia Nicholson graced us with her well-researched account of English women's lives in the wake of the First World War, I'll forgive them. It couldn't have been easy to realize that though you were raised to believe marriage and making babies was your lot in life, you'd never do so because all the eligible men (of your class) were buried in France; that the media hated you for being single and 'stealing' jobs from veterans; and that you had to live half-starved in a damp single bedsit while working for paltry wages. I'd take Sigourney Weaver as a hellish boss any day. Or maybe she'd help keep that single bed warm... Lesbianism is briefly touched upon in the text but this is the story of white heterosexual middle class women. Nicholson's prose, at least in the first few chapters, is repetitive (did you know: men died in the great war? and it was sad? and that it was even sadder for the womenfolk whose expectations of love and marriage were forever destroyed?). Her writing is not nearly as engaging as in her previous book Among the Bohemians, which I read gleefully in the midst of dissertation research. I kept putting this book down and had trouble making myself resume reading again--maybe because the subject was so sad and many of the obscure lives so dreary. But as it is one of the very few books written exclusively on the subject, it is well worth a read for those interested in the era.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I read a bunch of UK blogs and keep finding books like this one that aren't in the bookstores or public library here. Expensive read since the price is in pounds not dollars but worth it. The writing wasn't always the best, but the subject is one that has been rarely covered given that WWI books are practically a cottage industry. New books are constantly appearing but this is one of the few that looks at the war from women's viewpoints. Perhaps the most difficult thing about a book like this is I read a bunch of UK blogs and keep finding books like this one that aren't in the bookstores or public library here. Expensive read since the price is in pounds not dollars but worth it. The writing wasn't always the best, but the subject is one that has been rarely covered given that WWI books are practically a cottage industry. New books are constantly appearing but this is one of the few that looks at the war from women's viewpoints. Perhaps the most difficult thing about a book like this is that women's experiences and options have changed so radically that it's hard for contemporary readers to picture the narrow possibilities that confined single women before the war. But that is also the value of this book: it presents that life in all social and economic classes so we get a broad look at the issue. The book also introduces readers to dozens of women who went on to make a name for themselves and thus offers further opportunities for reading and research. And as the book notes, "A cohort of stay-at-home wives and mothers could never have achieved for women what this generation of spinsters did in meeting the challenge of grief and loss. For them, being denied marriage was a liberation and a launching pad." "They were not in the first rank of suffragettes and pioneers, but on foundations laid by those earlier women — education, opportunity, equality — and through sheer force of numbers, they steered women's concerns to the top of the agenda, and there they have remained."

  26. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    This was a very interesting book about the unique struggles faced by British women after WWI. The stories are wonderful, touching, and well-researched. The only hiccups were the sometimes oddball comments and tangents thrown in by the author. The most truly bizarre one was made after a quote from one of the women whose stories the author was relating. The woman, Lizzie Rignall, had ended her memoir like so: "I can say, with complete honesty, that I think the life I have had was right for me." Bu This was a very interesting book about the unique struggles faced by British women after WWI. The stories are wonderful, touching, and well-researched. The only hiccups were the sometimes oddball comments and tangents thrown in by the author. The most truly bizarre one was made after a quote from one of the women whose stories the author was relating. The woman, Lizzie Rignall, had ended her memoir like so: "I can say, with complete honesty, that I think the life I have had was right for me." But then the author (Mrs Nicholson), decided to comment directly after: "And yet how much more fulfilled it might have been." (page 132) wtf? How did she become the authority on someone else's life? (As opposed to the person who lived it). Was she just trying to create a darker tone for its' own sake? Really, though, overall, except the occasional oddball comment (they seemed to appear largely in the chapter - Business Girls, also, the author goes off on a tangent seemingly related to her previous works on Bohemia in later chapters, which is just kind of annoying), the book is well-written, and the stories told with care, sympathy, and an attention to detail. The stories of the women speak for their strength, independence, and intelligence, and are what really shine. Set alone, they are as good as any story I have read.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Gretchen

    I gave this book 5 stars because of the fascinating topic. Today in America we have about the same number of single men and women, despite the complaints of the lovelorn. But what if there really was an imbalance? A terrible imbalance: 2 million fewer men than women from age 15-35. What would women do? What would society do? That disaster actually happened after World War 1. The death toll was staggering. No matter how rich or beautiful you were, there was only one man for ten woman of marriageab I gave this book 5 stars because of the fascinating topic. Today in America we have about the same number of single men and women, despite the complaints of the lovelorn. But what if there really was an imbalance? A terrible imbalance: 2 million fewer men than women from age 15-35. What would women do? What would society do? That disaster actually happened after World War 1. The death toll was staggering. No matter how rich or beautiful you were, there was only one man for ten woman of marriageable age. This book tells the stories of how these "superfluous women" lived their lives: varying from despair to acceptance to triumph. Life 90-100 years ago in the UK was different. Women weren't expected to work outside the home. In Britain they couldn't vote unless they owned property and were over age 30 (life expectancy was in the low 50s). And when the men came back from World War 1, women were expected to give up their jobs and go back home. What was a single woman to do? The first part of the book explains the situation. The middle lays out the various options women had. The end tells of the triumphs of the remarkable "surplus" women — and how they changed the world forever. Today women in war-torn areas have to face this problem. And certain ethnic groups in America face significant sex-ratio imbalances. This book gives a new perspective and inspiration.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Caroline Button

    Very enjoyable and informative read about the 2 million surplus war bereaved spinsters following World War I. I agree with many of the reviews because of limited sources it could be repetitive but I didn't mind that is often coming from a different angle it consolidated my knowledge I did though think that the author was perhaps too determined to focus on the positive outcomes rather than the hardships. source materials focuses on women's narratives of those who made great successes of the time. I Very enjoyable and informative read about the 2 million surplus war bereaved spinsters following World War I. I agree with many of the reviews because of limited sources it could be repetitive but I didn't mind that is often coming from a different angle it consolidated my knowledge I did though think that the author was perhaps too determined to focus on the positive outcomes rather than the hardships. source materials focuses on women's narratives of those who made great successes of the time. It feels that only a brief chapter was dealt on the hardships of the majority living on their own. There was an element of assumptions and interpretations I would both agree with but also question. Obviously there are many many women who would've struggled on with their lives burying the deep distress of losing their ability to love and marry. However to conclude that women's emancipation was because of women having to make the best of war bereaved to spinsterhood I think it fails to take into account that the world was already changing (suffragettes) and the push for women to become more educated; have more opportunities and strive for the first steps in equality would have come anyway. As a record of social history it is fascinating and I will keep it on my shelf as I would like to read more from the source material.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Doris

    Writing biographies is not easy even when it's one person's story. Virginia Nicholson took on an entire genre of women, from WWI through the 1950s. And she does it beautifully. Off-put a little at the beginning by the fact that this is about women in the UK, not the US, and the plethora of facts and stories and more facts and more stories and the reasoning behind some of them...I was soon engrossed in the obvious progression of women's causes through the effects of the wars. The brave pioneer wom Writing biographies is not easy even when it's one person's story. Virginia Nicholson took on an entire genre of women, from WWI through the 1950s. And she does it beautifully. Off-put a little at the beginning by the fact that this is about women in the UK, not the US, and the plethora of facts and stories and more facts and more stories and the reasoning behind some of them...I was soon engrossed in the obvious progression of women's causes through the effects of the wars. The brave pioneer women who accepted their "surplus" status after so many of the men were killed in battle and found not only purposeful but also fulfilling lives without the status of being someone's wife, opened the door for the acknowledgement of the gender's value above the pre-WWI norm. These were not sudden changes, but agonizing step after agonizing step, going forward with a confidence and determination to be valued by either gender at any time in history. Singled Out is a read with great substance and multiple tales told beautifully. I enjoyed it immensely.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    A whole new perspective not often studied by scholars of WWI. The brave British women, these "Surplus Women", who survived the war having lost a beloved husband, boyfriend or brother and yet went on to create their own lives while remaining unmarried, come to us fully formed on the pages of Virginia Nicholson's "Singled Out". So many of them carved places for themselves in the "brave new world" of the '20s and '30s despite prejudice and misunderstanding of the "spinster" or "professional aunt", A whole new perspective not often studied by scholars of WWI. The brave British women, these "Surplus Women", who survived the war having lost a beloved husband, boyfriend or brother and yet went on to create their own lives while remaining unmarried, come to us fully formed on the pages of Virginia Nicholson's "Singled Out". So many of them carved places for themselves in the "brave new world" of the '20s and '30s despite prejudice and misunderstanding of the "spinster" or "professional aunt", and here the stories of many of them are told, while Ms. Nicholson explains the forces that both drove them forward and attempted to hold them back. I highly recommend this to anyone! It's fascinating, a rare look into a rarely profiled generation of brave females whose courage and daring, as well as their desire to live their lives to the fullest, paved the way for the early feminist movements in Britain and helped shape so many of the freedoms and ways of living independently that women of the 21st century oftentimes take too much for granted. Inspirational!

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