Created by Norman Collins and originally presented by Alan Ivimey, Woman's Hour was first broadcast on 7 October 1946 on the BBC's Light Programme (now called Radio 2). Janet Quigley, who was also involved with the birth of the UK radio programme Today, has been credited with "virtually creating" the programme.
The programme was transferred to its current home in 1973. Over the years it has been presented by Joan Griffiths, Violet Carson, Olive Shapley, Jean Metcalfe (1947, 1958), Marjorie Anderson (until 1972), Judith Chalmers (1966-1970), Sue MacGregor (1972-1987), Jenni Murray (since 1987), Martha Kearney (1998 to March 2007), and Jane Garvey (since 8 October 2007). Fill-in presenters have included Sheila McClennon, Carolyn Quinn, Jane Little, Ritula Shah, Oona King, Amanda Platell and Emma Barnett.
On 31 December 2004, the show became Man's Hour for one day only, on which it was presented by Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow. On 18 July 2010, after 64 years of Woman's Hour, the BBC began broadcasting a full series called Men's Hour on BBC Radio 5 Live, presented by Tim Samuels.
For one week in April 2014, the programme was guest edited by J. K. Rowling, Kelly Holmes, Naomi Alderman, Doreen Lawrence and Lauren Laverne. It was the first time the programme had a guest editor since its initial decade of broadcast. In September 2015, the programme hosted "Woman's Hour Takeover" with a week of guest editors, including Kim Cattrall, Nimko Ali, Rachel Treweek, Michelle Mone and Jacqueline Wilson.
Late Night Woman's Hour, a spinoff series, was launched in 2015, presented by Lauren Laverne. The series is broadcast in an 11pm timeslot and each episode takes a single topic for discussion. The lateness of the broadcast allows for more freedom to handle topic considered unsuitable for the morning broadcast.
The programme has an annual "power list" of highly achieving women.
In October 2016, it was recorded that the programme has 3.7 million listeners weekly and is the second most popular daily podcast across BBC Radio. A quarter of its audience where reported to be under 35 and 40% male. In 2013, the programme had 3.9 million listeners, 14% of whom were men. In 2006 it had 2.7 million listeners, 4% of whom were men.
In its current format, the first 45 minutes of the programme consist of reports, interviews and debates on health, education, cultural and political topics aimed at women and mothers. The last 15 minutes feature short-run drama serials (Woman's Hour Drama), which periodically change. One of the most popular of these is the recurring Ladies of Letters serials, starring Prunella Scales and Patricia Routledge. (This section is also broadcast at 7:45pm.) Before 1998 the last quarter of an hour was dedicated to readings.
Woman's Hour has been broadcast at 10am Monday to Friday since James Boyle's revision of the Radio 4 schedules in April 1998. Between September 1991 and April 1998 it was broadcast at 10:30am, having previously gone out for many years in an early afternoon slot (2pm). The programme's move to a morning slot was unpopular among some listeners who, for family or other reasons, work only in the morning. Michael Green, the then controller of Radio 4, made his decision the previous year and considered the elimination of the programme title.Weekend Woman's Hour is broadcast on Saturday afternoons at 4pm, features highlights of the previous week introduced by one of the presenters and lasts almost an hour. Additionally, episodes are made available as a podcast following the broadcast of each programme.
In its earlier years, it used a variety of popular light classics as signature tunes, including such pieces as H. Elliott-Smith's Wanderlust (Waltz), Anthony Collins' Vanity Fair, and the lively Overture from Gabriel Fauré's Masques et Bergamasques. From the early 1970s, specially composed pieces were used, several of which were provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Woman's Hour presenter Jane Garvey was found to have breached BBC guidelines on impartiality in the October 1st 2018 broadcast of Woman's Hour discussing the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. The main interviewee had compared the allegations against Kavanaugh with previous allegations against Judge Clarence Thomas, with listeners complaining about the bias of the interviewee selection and presenter. The BBC Executive Complaints Unit ruled that Garvey gave the impression of sympathising with the viewpoint of the biased interviewee, and "did not challenge the interviewee in a manner which would have ensured due impartiality". As a result of the breach of BBC guidelines, the Woman's Hour team and production staff had to undertake training on impartiality.
In April 2014, Radio 4's Roger Bolton noted on the BBC's Feedback Blog:"As you well know BBC programmes are supposed to be impartial but I'm not sure if that can be said of Woman's Hour, at least when it comes to feminism. Woman's Hour is in fact a powerful advocate for women's empowerment..." 
|2017||Diversity in Media Awards||Radio Programme of the Year||BBC Woman's Hour||Nominated|