Historical pageants, citizenship, and the performance of women’s history before second-wave feminism

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article argues that the early twentieth-century craze for historical pageants provided an opportunity for women’s groups to bring a nascent, accessible form of women’s history into the lives of local communities across Britain. Mainstream historical pageants were organized across the country, depicting selected episodes from the past usually relating to the local area. However, more than 200 inter-war pageants staged by women’s organizations, church groups, and a number of university colleges have not yet been studied. In these pageants, women imaginatively portrayed professional, religious, political, noble, and ‘ordinary’ women from across history. Prior to second-wave feminism, when scholars advanced the study of women within the academy, thousands of people had been invested in re-enacting women’s history since the inter-war years. Emphasizing the bravery and public duties of women in the past, historical pageants provided a non-controversial format through which women’s groups could effectively project their beliefs about the role they felt women should play as newly enfranchised citizens. These popular performances capture the dispersed, yet committed, dedication to encouraging women’s social citizenship in the inter-war years, and a more pluralistic understanding of women’s engagement with ‘feminist’ ideas in everyday life across Britain.


Original languageEnglish
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2017


  • feminism, historical pageants, women's history, everyday, inter-war