The availability of housing for single working women became an increasing problem during the late 19th century (see Buildings that Celebrate Working Women).
The crisis was no nearer a solution in the next century but larger numbers of women's organisations began taking a more sophisticated and informed approach.
The Lady Workers' Homes Co. Ltd with its housing project at 1 Abbey Road, St John's Wood, London NW8 claimed in 1911 that 'The Society is its own architect…' Success was demonstrated in a resident's letter, 'Other flats I have seen seem to be designed by architects who have no idea of the needs of the educated woman of small means, only recognising the artisan's wife…who does all her washing and cooking.'
This refurbishment and extension provided communal facilities of dining-room, drawing-room, entertainment hall, reading-room, lounge, restaurant, bedrooms, central heating, bathrooms, plus 26 self-contained flats, all at modest rents.
The 1930 Housing Act enabled Local Authorities to work with the voluntary housing sector. This sector was dominated by women's organisations and the Act provided a new avenue for increased participation.
The company known as the Women's Pioneer Housing Ltd was run as a Co-operative Society, employing its own woman architect, Gertrude Leverkus (1899-1976) to design each flat. There were four different styles on offer to suit diverse needs and by 1936 it provided 36 developments in London and one in Brighton.
Wartime evacuation of civil servants from London to the provinces in 1940 resulted in large numbers surrendering their housing. On their return single women, (there was a marriage bar in the Civil Service), found it almost impossible to rent unfurnished accommodation.
The National Association of Women Civil Servants (NAWCS) had urged the government and local authorities since 1947 to build low cost rentals but shortage of land made single-unit dwellings expensive. NAWCS representatives were impressed by the model Buccleuch House, Clapton Common, London E5 with its 96 flats plus communal facilities for single women, which Hackney Council had built and invited them to visit in 1951.
Although urban housing need was greatest, there was still acute shortage in rural areas and groups such as the Women's Village Councils Federation focused on empowering village women to get involved in the housing campaign.