SIX LARGE COLOUR DEMONSTRATION WALL-CHARTS ELECTRIC WASHER & WRINGER. Issued by the Electrical Association for Women, 20, Regent St. London, S.W. 1. Hudson Ltd, Birmingham & London. N.d. but ca. 1940s-1950s. [together with:] ELECTRIC REFRIGERATOR. Issued by The Electrical Association for Women, 20 Regent’s Street London, S.W.1. Hudson & Son Ltd., Birmingham and London. Copyright, n.d. but ca. 1940s-1950s. [together with:] ELECTRIC SUCTION CLEANER. Issued by The Electrical Association for Women, 20 Regent’s Street London, S.W.1. n.d. but ca. 1940s-50s. [together with:] ELECTRIC REFRIGERATOR MECHANICAL UNIT. Issued by The Electrical Association for Women, 20 Regent’s Street London, S.W.1. Copyright. Hudson & Son Ltd., Birmingham and London. n.d. but ca. 1940s-50s. [together with:] ELECTRIC IRON Issued by The Electrical Association for Women, 20 Regent’s Street London, S.W.1. n.d. but ca. 1940s-50s. [together with:] ELECTRIC COOKER Issued by The Electrical Association for Women, 20 Regent’s Street London, S.W.1. n.d. but ca. 1940s-50s.
1940. Together six large varnished, linen-backed hanging wall charts: I. 767 x 498mm. II. 740 x 498mm. III. 768 x 495mm. IV. 740 x 495mm. V. 768 x 510mm. VI. 765 x 510mm; each retaining the metal hanging bar and metal tail rods, though only two with hanging hook; electric washer with small tears at head and crude tape repair at tail, fridge poster with small tear with loss at left margin, refridgerator unit post with small splits at head and small nick to right hand margin, electric cooker with 9cm tear upper right hand margin touching text but without loss; all six browned and somewhat foxed and spotted, with some marginal fraying and wear in places; overall considering their ephemeral nature, good. Six vibrant and striking educational wall-charts, showing the inner electrical workings of common domestic appliances, from the early days of the Electrical Association for Women. Founded in 1924 by the Women’s Engineering Society (WES) to promote training and jobs for women in the field of electrical engineering, it was led by the noted engineer Caroline Haslett (1895-1957). Originally based in the Kensington & Knightsbridge Electric Lighting Co., the headquarters moved to Regent Street in 1933, before eventually moving in 1955 to 25 Foubert Street, just off Carnaby Street, where they remained until the Association closed in 1986. Demonstration rooms and kitchens were integral parts of every location, and the association also employed lecturers and demonstrators to travel to schools and W.I groups around the country. Wall charts such as these were no doubt used both at the Association’s own demonstration kitchens, but were designed to be portable, and could be used by E.A.W. lecturers and demonstrators. John Snell in his introduction to the 1936 edition of the ‘Electrical Handbook’ talks about the Association’s collaboration with the Federation of Women’s Institute. Mrs Florence Key, editor of the Woman Teacher, also praises their use in her review of December 13th 1940: ‘Three New E.A.W. Charts... These coloured charts are designed to show in a simple manner the construction of an Electric Iron, and Electric Cooker and an Electric Washer and Wringer. They measure 20 inches by 30 inches, are linen backed and varnished and are mounted on rollers. They will be found useful for schools and a great aid to those who wish to understand, or to explain, the working of the electric servants of the home’ (review by Mrs Florence. E. Key, editor of The Woman Teacher, Vol. XXII, No. 5, December 13th, 1940 p. 68).
Although the E.A.W.'s happily collaborated with several leading male authors, and included men within its financial and advisory structure, the group proudly insisted that it was a women's organization in which women addressed other women about women's concerns and well-being. Formed only four years before the 1928 Equality Franchise Act which gave all women over 21 the right to vote, several other prominent figures of WES were involved in the EWA, all of whom had considerable experience and expertise. Many had been involved in W.W.I. war work including munitions and other factories, and their experience of running and managing factories, working on the shop floors, design studios, workshops and engine sheds (particularly in the nascent aeronautics industries) gave them experiences and skills they could never have expected to access in peacetime. Not only hoping to train women in the field, the E.A.W actively focused upon educating the wider female populace about the phenomenon of electricity, at a time when households were moving away from a reliance upon gas in the wake of optimism about the potential of this cheap and abundant source of energy as a technology of social transformation. With the creation of a national grid, by the 1930s electricity was celebrated as a means of making homes cleaner and healthier, by removing the dust and germs which had so dominated public health concerns of the 19th century. For over half a century, the E.A.W. worked to modernize the British home by bringing the blessings of labour-saving appliances to the aid of British women. It sought to open up career paths for women, although ultimately these tended to be focused upon more ‘genteel’ roles, such as technically trained teachers and demonstrators, rather than returning to the front-line, roles which many of the original E.A.W. members had enjoyed during both wars. It sought to both educate women about electricity and its advantages in the home, whilst also seeking to discover the real needs and desires of the women themselves, and to bring this forcibly to the attention of the electrical industry in Great Britain; to make the 'women's point of view', as it was called, a factor in the production, distribution and application of electricity in the home.
For many years it proved immensely popular and influential. As Carroll Pursell notes ‘the E.A.W. was a part of that inter-war call to women to come 'back to home and duty', as historian Deidre Beddoe has termed it. It exemplified both the splintering of the women's movement into special interest groups, and a primary focus on the married woman in her home rather than in a job. At the same time, it also reflected notions of companionate marriage and the involvement of men, or at least men's technological advantages, in the care and maintenance of the home.... It may be that, finally, the E.A.W. is best seen as an expression of what Alison Light has called 'conservative modernity': it was a period when women and the home were placed at the centre of British national life, as well as a time which marked 'for many women their entry into modernity, a modernity which was felt and lived in the most interior and private of places'. (Domesticating Modernity, p. 48).
‘Was it feminist, as was often suggested, or really retrogressive, since it tended to accept the position of women in society as home-maker?’, is the question posed, however, by Gavin Weightman, (Children of the Light, How Electrification Changed Britain Forever, 2011 p. 165). By the 1970s, the world was a very different place, and the Association began to struggle, failing to attract and retain young members, combined with a loss of older members and branches. By 1977 it had ‘suspended its educational programme: demonstrators had been replaced by salespeople; the electricity boards had their own training programmes for staff and no longer recognized the E.A.W. diploma; science, rather than 'domestic' science, teachers now covered electricity in the schools; and schools became generally more resistant to using E.A.W. materials. Nor was the once-popular kitchen facility at headquarters immune from the changing times. When it was suggested that the fact that the front door of the headquarters at 25 Foubert's Place was kept shut might account for a falling off of visitors, the director denied it. It was more likely that the low number of visitors was due, she guessed, to high public transport fares, which kept suburban women at home, and to 'an overwhelming increase in foreign tourists' drawn to the area, presumably, by the modish drama of nearby Carnaby Street. 'In any case', she added, 'the door was closed on the advice of the police for security reasons in the high-risk area where the Headquarters offices are situated'’ (Pursell, p.65). The Association was eventually dissolved in 1986, the victim of large social changes, some of which it had proudly helped to bring about. ‘The Guardian noted that 'its headquarters in the West End of London, a few yards off Carnaby Street, have survived until now as an anachronistic oasis surrounded by the tacky clothing shops and high-tech showrooms. There is very little high-tech', it pointed out, 'at the E.A.W., which has a giant model of an electric plug for teaching women how to connect appliances to the electric supply' (ibid p. 66).
Bibliography: For more discussion see Carroll Pursell, ‘Domesticating Modernity: The Electrical Association for Women, 1924-86’ in The British Journal for the History of Science, Vol. 32, No. 1 (Mar., 1999), pp. 47-67.