What happened after the war ended?

What prevented women from continuing to use their skills after the war?

Many men and women developed extensive and unique computer-based code breaking skills as a result of their wartime work at Bletchley Park.

However, in the United Kingdom, a special law called the ‘Official Secrets Act' prevents anyone who carries out secretive activities for the Government from talking openly about it to anyone else. This law was used to protect the information about what went on at Bletchley Park to defeat the Nazis, and those involved in this ground-breaking work were not allowed to talk about it to anyone – even after the war. This included talking to prospective employers.

This was a particular disadvantage for the women who had worked at Bletchley Park, because the return to peace time also saw a return to many of the narrow and gender-limited employment roles for women.

Joanne Chorley was never allowed to discuss what she had achieved with Colossus, and was therefore never able to secure an equivalent peacetime job with such sophisticated computer technology. The irony for Joanna, and many like her, was that her gender, which initially helped her become involved, ultimately prevented her from continuing to develop her expertise.

Did any women go on to continue to work on secret code breaking?

“ Only a very small handful of women were able to undertake work that matched their skill level.”
Michael Smith

Teaching Point: What opportunities were there for women to work in computing and codebreaking after WWII?

Had roles for women changed after the war?

‘At the end of the war, most of the women went back to being what their parents had wanted them to be; you are the housewife! Get yourself a husband, get yourself a house, get yourself a baby, get yourself a car - if you can. And that's the extent of the ambition for many of the women who'd worked here, even for some of those women who'd had to fight to get to university before they came here. They saw this period of war time as being different to real life, and the life that they should expect for themselves. It is only a very small number of these women who had done fantastic work who would go on and take things forward and start doing work outside of Bletchley Park that matches their skills.’

Teaching Point: How did the Official Secrets Act restrict the further development of many women’s computing careers?

Could you discuss your skills after the war?

“ Absolutely not – you could not say anything about the work we had been doing. ”
Joanna Chorley

Teaching Point: Which societal constraints prevented many women from further developing their computing expertise once the war had ended?