“On an Equal Footing with Men?” Women and Work at the BBC 1923-1939

Murphy, Catherine. 2011. “On an Equal Footing with Men?” Women and Work at the BBC 1923-1939. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis is a study of women’s employment in the BBC during the 1920s and 1930s and poses the questions – what was the BBC like as a place for women to work, and how equal were they? While there has been wide research into a variety of aspects of the BBC during the inter-war years, to date there has been only cursory consideration of the role of women in the Company/Corporation. The BBC is a particularly significant organisation to study because women worked at all levels, apart from the very top; as charwomen and kitchen hands; as secretaries and clerical staff; as drama producers, advertising representatives and Children’s Hour Organisers. Prior to the Second World War, three women, Hilda Matheson, Mary Somerville and Isa Benzie, attained Director status. The BBC viewed itself as a progressive employer, one that supported equal promotion prospects and equal pay. However, understated sexual discrimination was commonplace and in 1932, a Marriage Bar was introduced. The practice of marriage bars was widespread in the inter-war years yet the BBC was never fully committed to its bar and ‘exceptional’ married women and women judged to be useful to the Corporation continued to be employed and retained. This study considers the many different experiences of women and work at the BBC: married and single, waged and the salaried, young and old; graduate and non-graduate. As well as positioning itself within the historiography of the BBC, this thesis is the first to offer a detailed analysis of women’s employment in a large inter-war institution, one in which women’s experience of work was largely positive. It thus broadens both our understanding of the BBC and also offers new insights into women’s working lives in the 1920s and 1930s.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)


BBC, women, work, history, employment, inter-war years

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



24 February 2011

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

06 Feb 2012 16:14

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 10:31



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