Lighting the home - women's involvement

This online exhibition explores electric lighting in the home. It briefly describes life before electricity, early developments in lighting and how the benefits of electricity were promoted.

Cover from the E.A.W publication The Electrical Age for Women October 1931

Women championed electric light as they literally saw the benefits it could produce in their home. Their involvement culminated in the Electrical Association for Women (E.A.W) which helped to promote and educate other women (and men!) on the benefits of electricity. Not only did the unpleasant smell associated with gas, oil and candle lighting disappear, but a new flexibility in household routines was established.

For the first time housework could be spread over the day rather than being confined to daylight hours. The main meal could be prepared in the evening rather than at midday thus emancipating women from these tasks during the day.

Right: cover from the E.A.W publication The Electrical Age for Women October 1931. Notice especially the imagery of home electrical appliances and how women could benefit from using these with their household chores. Click on the image to see a larger view.

The Electrical Association for Women

EAW publication Recipes for the electric cooker
EAW publication Electricity without tears

The introduction of electricity at home opened up new opportunities for thousands of women. The effects it had on everyday tasks cannot be underestimated. However, it is interesting to note that the other two utilities that transformed housework in the nineteenth century - gas and water- were never lobbied for, promoted or developed by women. Electricity was different. 

The Electrical Association for Women (EAW) was the organisation that campaigned for the expansion of electricity supplies and the improvement of electrical appliances. It produced magazines and books on the topic to explain the marvels of electricity to a largely ignorant audience. Its work also supported the few women who entered into the electrical industry. One of the main concerns of the Association was the welfare of housewives who could benefit from electricity in the home.


EAW poster explaining the fuctions of a suction cleaner
EAW poster explaining the fuctions of an electric cooker

The selection of EAW publications above were produced with the intention of explaining the theory of electricity, how to use it and how it can benefit the ordinary housewife. They were written in simple terms to explain its advantages and to promote all-electric homes. They even included publications with recipes for using electric cooking appliances!

There is more information on the EAW and its work on the online exhibition Women in engineering.

Next page → Promotion of electricity in the home

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