Created by Norman Collins and originally presented by Alan Ivimey the programme was first broadcast on 7 October 1946 on the BBC's Light Programme (now called Radio 2). It 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 1 January 2005, 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 presented by Tim Samuels.
In April 2014, as part of its 60th anniversary, the programme was guest edited over a week by J. K. Rowling, Kelly Holmes, Naomi Alderman, Doreen Lawrence, and Lauren Laverne. 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.
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 are 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 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 (2.00pm). 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 4 pm, which features highlights of the previous week. 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 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.
In April 2014, Radio 4's Roger Bolton stated 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..."  The programme maintains links with Women's Aid  and the Fawcett Society, a campaign group which promotes using the media to secure political change on women's behalf.
- Miranda Sawyer (11 August 2013). "The Woman's Hour mix - does it work?". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Ciar Byrne (3 February 2006). "'Woman's Hour' discovers a new audience: men". The Independent. Retrieved 7 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- Alison Flood (10 April 2014). "JK Rowling to become Woman's Hour first guest editor for 60 years". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- "BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour Takeover". Retrieved 30 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- David Hendy Life on Air: A History of Radio Four, 2007, OUP, p332.
- Bolton, Roger. "Feedback:What Is The Point of Power Lists?". Retrieved 20 September 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- "Women's Aid". womensaid.org.uk.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
- "Welcome from our President". The Fawcett Society.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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