The Women's Guild of Arts: Gender, space, and professional identity in London, 1870-1930

Zoe Thomas

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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This thesis provides the first comprehensive study of the Women’s Guild of Arts. Established in 1907 by textile designer May Morris, it included the most prestigious women in the Arts and Crafts movement. This is not simply a history of the WGA, however, and the experiences of this group of approximately sixty women are explored, 1870–1930, to argue that women were central to the movement, and changed the ways British society thought about middle-class women and work. These women exerted a quiet feminism in their actions, consistently striving for artistic equality. The guild was founded because women were not allowed to join the Art Workers’ Guild, an institution that remains synonymous with current understanding of the movement. This has influenced the now widely-held view that female participation was severely limited in consequence. This thesis argues that despite gendered hierarchies, women were active in the movement from its beginnings, reaching particular acclaim by the Edwardian era. At the point at which female artistic engagement was expanding, the movement has erroneously been considered as being in the midst of decline. The chapters are structured around the principal spaces in which the guild interacted—guild halls, studios, homes, workshops, shops, exhibitions, and in the city. Female artistic professionalism had to be continually asserted, and spaces claimed, in ways that have often left little trace. Members asserted the respectable historic nature of their craftsmanship to carve out a space at the heart of London’s artistic scene, negotiate a place in the international art market, and to broaden the scope of the arts in public life. The overarching aim of this thesis is to show the role of spatial practices in the shaping of individual and organisational female professional identity in the Arts and Crafts movement in Britain between 1870 and 1930.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Hamlett, Jane, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Dec 2016
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017


  • women
  • gender
  • history
  • Women's Guild of Arts
  • Arts and Crafts movement
  • May Morris
  • women artists
  • British history
  • Art Workers' Guild
  • space
  • professional identity
  • London

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