Women's Role During the War (Britain at War 1914-1918)(Britain 1900-1951)

  • Created by: oanderton
  • Created on: 28-08-20 11:54

Part A Summary: How Significant Were the Changes i

Part A Summary:

How Significant Were the Changes in the Role of Women?

  • The sufferage and militancy movements ended at the start of the war due to support from sufferage campaign leaders and a shift towards helping the war effort in order to prove themselves as first class citizens.
  • Opportunities for women greatly increased during the war
  • Women used the war effort as a movement using organised pressure of men who did not participate in active service.
  • Women joined the workforce by working in muntitions.
  • Women's participation in the workforce did not last, however, and decreased after the war.
  • Attitudes towards women did not reflect the change in the workforce during the war, as many men still saw women's duty to be domestic servants and were threatened by the cheap labour women offered, which they believe would threaten their jobs post-war.
  • Women took up many new positions, including highly skilled positions.
  • Women fulfilled many roles traditionally asigned to men.
  • Women volunteered on the front lines in many ways.
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Campaign Leaders Supporting the War

The outbreak of war had brought an end to the campaign for women's suffrage.

  • Millicent Fawcett initially opposed the war, then supported it.
  • Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst saw a patriotic opportunity to show what women could contribute
  • Sylvia Pankhurst was a pacifist

New support for the war, and the opportunity for women to prove their status as first-class citizens changed the nature of the women's sufferage movement.

  • Militancy was abandoned
  • Women took to helping the war effort.
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Increasing Opportunities for Women

War gave increasing opportunities for women to work in different occupations and to join traditionally male organisations e.g. police, armed forces

  • Early 1917: state recognised volunteer groups and incorporated them into the WAAC, the WRNS and the WRAF

Women's Role in the Armed Forces:

  • Some 100,000 women served in the armed forces
  • Administrative roles
  • Cooks
    • 17,000 women served with the british army in france in administrative roles and as cooks
  • 1918: First women casualties at the front, 9 women killed in an air raid
  • Nursing
    • 23,000 women were in the VAD
    • 15,000 women became medical orderlies
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ii. Increasing Opportunities for Women

  • Women could not 'hold the king's commission'- no officer ranks


  • Respect and gratitude of those they looked after is evident in many memoirs of serving soldiers and officers
  • Direct encounter with the horrors of modern war was a searing experience for many of the women volunteered.
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Using the War Effort as a Movement

  • A lot of the energy which had characterised the suffrage movement went into the war effort.
  • Women organised to spur on the war effort
    • Women's contribution was an organised effort to prove their right to be treated as first-class citizens.
  • Women of England's Active Service League was set up
    • Was an unofficial organisation aimed at encouraging women to pressure men to volunteer for acive service in the armed forced. 
    • 20,000, put pressure on men to join up
  • Many women gave white feathers to signify cowardice to men they saw not in uniform and of military age

Women organised pressure on men to join active service as part of their war effort.

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Women in Munitions

  • WSPU demanded the right for women to take up jobs to free men for the forces
  • Initially women lost jobs
    • As the demand for textiles dropped
  • By the end of 1918, 82,000 women were working munitions
    • 1916: rose to 340,000
    • 1918: 947,000
  • 300 killed in explosions or by the adverse effects of chemicals
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Benefits of Women in the Workforce

The effects of war work brought some positive changes...

  • In transport industry
    •  Big increase in female employees
  • Biggest change was in the employment of married women
    • War had quite a striking effect on family life
    • Improved the financial independence of wives.
    • Improved the overall health of women and children.
  • Increased mobility
    • Some women found travel and adventure.
      • Would not have been possible if they had been tied to home.
  • Decrease in women working in domestic service
    • Some found different types of work
  • Relatively few of the 48,000 land girls who volunteered stayed to work on the land.
    • Many exchanged domestic drudgery for dangerous and exhausting work in factories
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ii. Benefits of Women in the Workforce

  • More women were needed
  • Facilities improved
    • Some workplace nurseries, canteens and washrooms.
  • Seebohm Rowntree was put in charge of the welfare and health department
    • Did a lot to help women
  • Volunteer service of women patrols became recognised as a women's police force.
    • 1917: 4,000 patrols
  • Other women volunteers kept an eye on the domestic lives of women.
  • Given separation allowances while their husbands were away in the forces.
  • Greater public acceptance of a more independent and more varied employment of women
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Limitations of Women in the Workforce

  • Did not bring equality
    • Women were generally paid less
    • Women might expect to earn 2/3 of the wages paid to men.
  • Wages did go up as the labour shortage increased.
  • TUC did not press hard for equality
  • Many women faced discrimination in the workplace
    • Hostility of skilled men
  • More joined trade unions
    • Did not lead to much female participation in trade union activities.
      • Number of female trade union members fell away after the war.
  • Total number of women in work did not rise sharply
    • From 5.9 million in 1914 to only 7.3 million in 1918
    • Most had traditional female occupations
  • More women in work and travelling round.
    • Dangers of attacks inceased.
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ii. Limitations of Women in the Workforce

  • Perceived to be a danger that morality would be affected.
    • By men and women working together.
    • By more women on trains and buses.
  • Volunteer service of women patrols became recognised as a women's police force.
    • But had no power of arrest.
    • More like an auxiliary service.
    • 1917: 4,000 patrols
  • Illegitimate births increased.
    • Reports of more sexual activity.
  • 1918: It became a criminal act for a woman to infect a man with venereal disease.
  • Considerable interest in promoting motherhood and increasing the nation's stock.
  • While women were doing more there was a sort of counter movement to encourage more babies and more domesticity.
  • In terms of numbers the overal impact was not as great as it might have appeared.
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iii. Limitations of Women in the Workforce

  • 1918: Domestic service still the biggest cohort of women.
    • 947,000 women in munitions
    • 1,250,000 in domestic service
    • 954,000 in banking and insurance
  • The effects of greater employment did not really last
  • Statistics cannot reflect attitudes
  • Many men resented the challenge of lower paid women taking skilled jobs
    • Wanted to make sure that women did not take men's jobs once the war was over.
  • Many thought that a woman's sphere was essentially domestics.
  • Degree of permanent change can be exaggerated.
  • Women did not maintain their position in many jobs.
  • Married women were not employed in such large numbers after the war.
  • Women taking on new roles was associated by many with the tradefy and dislocation of war.
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New Positions for Women

  • War saw women in all sorts of occupations they had not been in before
    • Women drove ambulances
    • Administered first aid
    • Delivered letters and telegrams
    • Worked in heavy industry
    • Shovelled and delivered coal
    • Heaved beer barrels in breweries
    • Swept streets
    • Were mechanics
    • Tended to cars, lorries and places
  • Women too up new positions, traditionally asigned to men.
    • Policewomen
    • Processions of munitions workers
    • Pictures of women's football teams
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ii. New Positions for Women

Increasing number of women in highky skilled positions.

  • 1911:
    • 477 women doctors
      • 1921: 1,253 women doctors out of a total female workforce of 5 million
  • 1921:
    • 41 female civil engineers
    • 49 architects
    • 20 barristers
    • 17 solicitors
    • 200,000 teachers
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