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World War I
How far did women's war efforts contribute to gaining the vote in 1918?
Women and the war
Woman postal worker
As men left their jobs and went overseas to fight in the war, suffragist and suffragette leaders
volunteered their members to take their place. At first, the government met their offer with
patronising remarks. But by 1915, as the war forced Britain to recruit more and more soldiers,
the women's willingness to volunteer could no longer be ignored. Hundreds of thousands of
women were employed in industries key to the war effort, such as munitions factories and
weapons manufacturers. Many more women worked as conductors on the buses and trams, as
labourers on farms, in hospitals as nurses and in offices as secretaries and assistants.
With the majority of young men enlisted in the army, the role these women played was crucial
not only to the war effort but also to the running of the country. Even during the worst of the
war, the buses still ran and the mail was delivered.
In 1918 'respectable' ladies over 30 years old who were householders, or married to
householders, were given the vote. There are different views among historians why this
happened when it did.
It was a token of gratitude for their effort during the war.
The highly skilled and dangerous work done by women during the warwas probably the
greatest factor in the granting of the vote to women.
Women's experiences during the war raised their self-image and sense of individual identity. In
addition to that, many served with such distinction, in the medical services particularly, that
their political cause gained credibility as a result.
War accelerated a process which had started well before 1914.
Women had been working for years in industry and business, with little political recognition of
their contribution. Some historians such as Arthur Marwick (War and Social Change in the
Twentieth Century, 1974), have argued that while it's possible that their role in the workplace
would have earned them political advancement eventually, it was the war which highlighted
the economic and strategic value of women to the country.
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The pre-war political movement should get the credit.
Stressing the importance of women's war effort takes away from the impact which the pre-war
women's movement had made. This line of argument can be taken further - the war actually
delayed women receiving the franchise. Women's suffrage was on the verge of being granted
just before war broke out in 1914.
The contribution women made during the war had an impact on attitudes to women.…read more