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ISOTYPE Book: Priestley, British Women Go To War

This is perhaps the oddest book with an ISOTYPE illustration, certainly of the ones I have seen so far. It also contains the most confusing chart produced by the ISOTYPE Institute I am aware of.

The Book

British Women Go To War was published in 1944. The book describes the many roles women were filling in Great Britain during the Second World War. That women could do all those jobs was quite novel back then, but it's quite strange to read about today. Who knew that women could be postal workers, paramedics, welders, etc.?

There are 49 colour photographs showing women performing many different tasks, many of them military-related. There are women assembling grenades, riveting airplane fuselages, servicing engines, etc., but also doing actual military work, like handling barrage balloons, operating airplane spotting equipment, etc.


The front and back inside covers contain the same ISOTYPE chart. It is never referred to in the text (though neither are the photos, they're just listed in a separate table of contents). And it is quite confusing.

Unlike most other ISOTYPE charts, this one is almost completely incomprehensible without reading the legend. And even then, there are still open questions.

The population pyramid on the left represents the female population of Great Britain in 15-year age groups, presumably as of 1944. Each group is one million women.

Colors show different kinds of service: war production in red, military in blue, other services in green. Full arrows indicate conscription, whereas outline arrows mean voluntary service. It's interesting how that differs between age groups.

The drawings on the right are much less clear. What do the four individual red figures represent? Looking at the red group, it seems like there are two million women working in war production, but it's not terribly clear. The blue groups seem more consistent: one million each in the air force, the navy, and as spotters and in civil defense (the thing with the three cups looks like one of those listening contraptions used before Radar).

The green groups seem to represent one million women in civil service (the group next to the adorable double-decker bus), and half a million in agriculture. The rest simply don't seem to have numbers attached.

For an official ISOTYPE Institute chart (with the logo in the lower right), it seems strangely off. The legend is confusing, the layout is very messy, and the whole thing just doesn't work very well. Perhaps they didn't have enough time to prepare it. It's a rare misstep, I haven't seen anything as sloppy and confusing so far.

Posted by Robert Kosara on March 5, 2017. Filed under isotype, isotope-books.