At the end of the Great War, the British called them the surplus women. They were the more than 2 million women who had no hope of finding a husband because a generation of men lay dead in the fields of France, of Belgium, Gallipoli. At the end of 1919, only 1 in 10 women were going to marry.
The surplus women had to find their own way. They had to find jobs, housing, ways to get along in a world designed for marriage and children. More than that, they had to find meaning. In a world that wasn’t what they hoped, what they planned and what they dreamed of, they had to find a way to find joy in an unexpected life.
I, jokingly, told my niece that there used to be a place for single women. They wore cardigans and pearls, they arranged the flowers at church, gardened, had a few cats and wrote handwritten letters to their nieces and nephews.
Well, this is what I imagine the surplus women did. I suspect the truth is both more pedestrian and profound. Some of them played to cliche, some of them went and found their own way. Looked at tradition and custom and the dramatically changed world and they forged their own path.
It comes up in so many ways. Right now it’s Christmas. I have photos for the Christmas card. They are fantastic, but I haven’t sent my final selections to the photographer, because I just don’t know. Do single women send a Christmas Card to everyone – or I guess the half the list that is mine and the people still talking to me. Do I decorate? Where do I go for Christmas dinner?
What’s the new path forward?