1930s: Women and their place in society

“Gone with the Wind” was first released in 1939. [Wikimedia]

The epic movie “Gone with the Wind“, based on Margaret Mitchell’s novel, was released in 1939 on the eve of World War II. The movie took the world by storm and gave Vivien Leigh and Clark Gable cult status. Despite the movie’s feminist undertones, the following quote from the book’s author provides a more sobering perspective of women’s status in society in the 1930s:

“Life was not easy, nor was it happy, but she did not expect life to be easy, and, if it was not happy, that was woman’s lot. It was a man’s world, and she accepted it as such. The man owned the property, and the woman managed it. The man took credit for the management, and the woman praised his cleverness. The man roared like a bull when a splinter was in his finger, and the woman muffled the moans of childbirth, lest she disturb him. Men were rough of speech and often drunk. Women ignored the lapses of speech and put the drunkards to bed without bitter words. Men were rude and outspoken, women were always kind, gracious and forgiving.” – Margaret Mitchell

In South Africa (white) women only gained the right to vote in 1930. Paarl’s Voters’ List for 1931 shows that about 3,500 women in the Drakenstein Valley were eligible to vote that year. Most of the women (85,5%) listed their occupation as housewife/housekeeper/or in domestic services.

Of the 500 women employed outside the home:

  • 194 were teachers
  • 74 worked as typists, shorthand typists and clerks
  • 60 were seamstresses, dressmakers and milliners
  • 47 were nurses and matrons

Other job categories included weavers, labourers, factory workers, fruit packers, shopkeepers and bookkeepers.

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