“…the strain of combining married life with office work.” What the BBC Marriage Bar tells us about married women’s lives in the inter-war years.

Authors: Murphy, K.

Conference: Women's History Network 20th Annual Conference: Looking Back, Looking Forward

Dates: 9-11 September 2011


The BBC recruited its first women staff in 1923 and for the first nine years was positive about employing married women; it even introduced a system of paid maternity leave in 1928. However in 1932, for a variety of social, economic and personal reasons, a marriage bar was introduced. This was not unusual, marriage bars were endemic in the inter-war years, operating in teaching, the Civil Service, banking and many other areas of work. During the discussions about the implementation of the BBC bar, “two classes” of married women were identified: those who intended to remain permanently in the ranks of women workers and those whose commitment to the BBC was temporary and “whose mind is not here but in their homes.” BBC management were happy to retain the former but keen to lose the latter. In order to distinguish between the two groups, a Marriage Tribunal was established in 1933, where women could present a case for retention. The five criteria used included loyalty, efficiency, career-mindedness, the ability to combine married life with office work and compassionate circumstances. As a result, 13 women were forced to resign. Throughout the operation of the bar, the BBC looked to ways it could retain married women seen as useful to the Corporation, e.g. it was relaxed for temporary staff, waitresses and wardrobe women. No salaried women were ever required to leave. This paper exposes the BBC’s pragmatic yet confused attitude towards married women’s work and places the bar into the inter-war context.

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Kate Murphy