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Pre-WWI Women's Clubs in London: Tea, Toilets & Typewriters

Frances Borzello seeks to explain the rise of women’s clubs in London before the First World War – and their equally swift demise.

The rise and rise of the London women’s club was a phenomenon of the three decades before the First World War. Ranging from female clones of the Mayfair gentlemen’s clubs to clubs for working girls, they were enough of a presence by the mid-1890s to make news of them and their development the subject of regular press discussion in the likes of The Queen magazine.

At the top end of the scale were those that aped the exclusivity of the gentlemen’s club – the Alexandra (founded in 1884) was restricted to ‘ladies of position’; members of the University Club for Ladies (1887) were united by their university educations; the temperance Pioneer Club (1892), founded by Mrs Montgomery Massingberd, catered for women with an interest in women’s social, political and educational advancement; and those joining the aristocratic Empress Club (1897) could enjoy the benefits of a smoking room and a tickertape for stockmarket news.

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