Genreally 1950s Britain is regarded as a bleak period for Feminism, but there were also women like Edith Summerskill who were totally devoted to the cause and made a difference.
Dr Summerskill was an Oxford graduate, physician, Member of Parliament, and a Minister of Cabinet, she was also a married woman and a mother of two.
During the 1950’s, Summerskill wrote a series of letters to her daughter Shirley, who, like her mother, was an active Feminist. Shirley studied medicine in Oxford at that time and later became a doctor and a Member of Parliament and of Cabinet. Edith Summeskill’s letters to Shirley were collected and published in a book Letters to My Daughter (1957). Although Summeskill’s book contains only Edith’s letters to her daughter, the mother’s response to questions raised by the daughter creates a sense of an ongoing dialogue between the two, concerning issues of education for women, equality and achievements.
In reply to Shirley’s question about the part that married women are playing in the affairs of the country, her mother writes: The insistent demand of women for recognition in spheres of work outside the home, which has quietly but unremittingly been advanced in the course of the last hundred years, has grudgingly been conceded. As a doctor and a Member of Parliament I am fully conscious of the fact that the doors both of the medical schools and of the House of Commons had to be forced by furious and frustrated women before their claims were recognized. It would be quite inaccurate to suggest that we were welcomed into the universities or into public life. (143)
Edith Summerskill, a woman who accomplished a great deal in her own life and achieved recognition in a man’s world, constantly struggles for and raises consciousness about women’s equal rights. In response to Shirley’s complaint about “the stock question” of anti-feminists, “Why have not more women achieved eminence in the arts and sciences?” She answers: “Personally I am astounded that so many have distinguished themselves despite the conditions which society has imposed upon them” (181).
Summerskill’s own career proves that in theory women could do it all, but in reality very few had the opportunity to prove it.