The Dangers and Temptations of the Street: managing female behaviour in Belfast during First World War

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Concerns about the ‘modern girl’ have a long tradition, and the changes and disruption brought about by the First World War exacerbated these anxieties. Particular fears were generated about young working class women in public spaces and an associated decline in moral standards. This article focuses on the city of Belfast and places these concerns expressed about female behaviour during the First World War in a pre-war context. It suggests that the particular circumstances of pre-war Belfast which included high female employment and rapid industrialisation had led to growing concerns about young women’s behaviour from the late nineteenth century. There had been considerable philanthropic engagement to try and ensure that these women were offered alternative ‘suitable’ entertainments as opposed to the corrupting influences of the streets. The experience of managing female behaviour in Belfast during the First World War was, therefore, more of continuity rather than change, with ideas of rescue and reform dominating. It seeks to place Belfast within a comparative context to offer an important regional study, illustrating how unique social, political and religious circumstances influenced the attempts to manage and control female behaviour.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)414-431
Number of pages18
JournalWomen's History Review
Issue number3
Early online date1 Dec 2016
Publication statusPublished online - 1 Dec 2016


  • History
  • social history
  • women's history
  • gender history
  • charity
  • philanthropy
  • voluntary organisations
  • women
  • social regulation and reform
  • urban
  • class
  • religion


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