Alternative Text = Mrs Pennyman Letters
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Mrs Pennyman Letters > About Us > The Historical Context

The Historical Context

In This Section
Mrs Pennyman
The Letter Writers
The Historical Context
The Public History Project
‘I feel sure you will be rewarded by becoming much happier
than those who give way under their trouble.’
The Ministry of Pensions was established in 1916 in response to the escalation of the war and the introduction of conscription. It brought separation allowances, disability pensions and widows’ pensions fully under the control of the state. The amount women received was determined by the rank of the soldier who had died. Eighty per cent of all war widows’ pensions were for the lowest rank, that of Private. This was 10/- a week. These were non-contributory pensions, however, the view prevailed that widows should conduct themselves in a respectable way and some women had their pensions withdrawn for behaviour that was considered immoral.

Women like Mary Pennyman helped widows and mothers to negotiate war-time bureaucracy. They offered advice and emotional support and encouraged women to remain strong in the face of financial hardship and intense grief. The Pennyman letters provide a glimpse into the class system in Britain and to the precarious existence of some women and their families during and after the war.

Further Reading:

  • Gerard DeGroot, Blighty: British Society in the Era of the Great War (Harlow, Longman, 1996).
  • Katherine Holden, The Shadow of Marriage: Singleness in England, 1914-60 (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2007).
  • Janis Lomas, ‘Soldiering On: War Widows in First World War Britain’, in M. Andrews and J. Lomas, The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences since 1914 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).
  • Arthur McIvor, A History of Work in Britain, 1880-1950 (Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2001).
  • Virginia Nicholson, Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men after the First World War (London, Penguin, 2008).
  • Jay Winter, The Great War and the British People (Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan, 2003).

Ormesby Hall view from the garden
Ormesby Hall, Middlesbrough.
Credit: Esme Mai

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