The Hairdresser Blues: British Women and the Secondary Modern School, 1946–72

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Carter, Laura 

jats:titleAbstract</jats:title> jats:pBetween the late 1940s and the early 1970s, the majority of teenage girls in Britain attended secondary modern schools. Yet, histories of the meaning and experience of postwar education continue to neglect this constituent of postwar women, favouring grammar-school leavers. This article draws upon a set of fifty-eight newly mined life histories from two postwar birth cohort studies to recapture the perspectives of ordinary women who attended secondary modern schools in England, Wales, and Scotland between c.1957 and c.1963. The longitudinal sources show that these women developed their attitudes to education gradually, across their lifecourses. Hairdressing, which stood for a desire for clean, creative, and autonomous paid work that could be balanced with domesticity, is identified as a reoccurring theme in the testimonies of secondary modern women. The article diagnoses secondary modern women with the hairdresser blues, a formulation that encapsulates their collective expectations, disappointments, and regrets born out of their closely interlinked experiences of schooling and paid work across the 1960s and early 1970s. These women’s educational attitudes were defined by the cumulative realization that a secondary modern education might not even be able to make you into a hairdresser. The article ultimately suggests that it was more often the hairdresser blues rather than ‘missing out’ on the prestigious grammar school that politicized secondary modern schools for the ordinary women who attended them.</jats:p>

4303 Historical Studies, 43 History, Heritage and Archaeology
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Twentieth Century British History
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Oxford University Press (OUP)
Economic and Social Research Council (ES/P010261/1)

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2023-07-06 08:07:56
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