By Aisling O’Malley, IET Archivist
The Second World War saw the UK experience shortages in most commodities. From 1939 rationing of items was introduced to the UK, initially this affected goods such as petrol but later affected food and clothes. To ensure the equal distribution of resources, the government provided ration books to the public that included coupons for clothing, fabric, food, and other products. As a result of rationing, recipes, pamphlets, and other publications were produced to help the public effectively use the limited resources available to them with minimal waste.
The Electrical Association for Women (EAW), formed in 1924 initially under the name Women’s Electrical Association, aimed to encourage the use of electricity in the home, to help alleviate the domestic workload on women, and to encourage the development of cheap electrical appliances for the home. The EAW achieved their aims through courses, campaigns, and publications such their journal, The Electrical Age.
During the Second World War The Electrical Age, published articles and recipes to help their readers make the most out of their rations.
In the 1939 Autumn edition of The Electrical Age, the EAW released a statement to its readers in reaction to the rationing of electricity whereby the government announced that households had to reduce their energy consumption to 75% if they used over 200 units of electricity in a year. Its aim, they stated, was to ‘help householders to economise wisely’ by explaining how a unit of electricity is used, how to reduce usage of electrical appliances, and how to calculate consumption of electricity. This article also helpfully suggested and provided recipes for meals that could be ‘easily prepared and left to cook with a minimum of attention and electricity’.
Throughout the 1940s, The Electrical Age began publishing articles on how to extend the use of clothing and other items with snappy taglines such as ‘Wits Save Waste’, ‘Make and Mend’, and ‘Old Friends in New Guise’. The emphasis was continually on reducing waste through mending, reusing, and caring for existing resources. To engage their readers a character called Margaret began featuring in their articles on waste reduction. In the July 1943 issue, Margaret is used to show how old clothes that were either too small or once belonged to adults could be reshaped and upcycled to provide new clothes to growing children. The narrative style of the ‘Margaret’ articles provided relief from the strictly instructional content found throughout the war.
Although not all the rationing articles written in The Electrical Age were primarily focussed on electricity, they demonstrate the EAW’s intention that was to improve pressure on women in their daily lives, something rationing did little to help.
The papers of the Electrical Association for Women including ‘The Electrical Age’ can be consulted at the IET Archives.