Women in the War

1. In Britain in 1914 and before, women were thought of as second class citizens. Women had few privileges that men had; they were down upon by men. Women’s employment opportunities were limited and their pay was considerably less than a man’s. All this was due to strong discrimination about women being of less importance and intelligence, the general view was traditional one which inferred that women should be housewives. Only one third of women were in paid employment. However there were differences between the jobs they did because of their class. Middle class and Working class women did very different jobs. Working class women worked in more manual, and labour intensive jobs. Whilst Middle class did more intellectual jobs.

So we already know that there were clear distinctions between the jobs the women of different classes did. Working class women mostly did domestic services such as cleaning or being servants for the rich. They had to work in poor conditions and were subjected to long working hours. On top of this they received criticism, low wages and got little time off. A major employer was the textiles industry in which women could supervise, yet men often get these jobs. Women also made clothes and dresses, or jewellery or painted ornaments. Middle class women experienced better working conditions. These women were more likely to work as teachers, nurses, secretaries and shop assistants.

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Women had no political vote and were looked down on as inferior to men. Before 1914 jobs for women were limited and discouraged due to traditional beliefs about the role of women. Within this discrimination there was further discrimination between the classes of women. They were expected to manage the house. People were aware of this and a group called the Suffragettes voiced the opinion that equality should be imposed. This all changed when war broke out.

2. When war broke out the men went to war, this meant that they left their vacant jobs behind. The country was behind the war effort and all came together. Women were at first not allowed to fill the men’s jobs, they were only allowed to knit and fundraise. People, including Emmeline Pankhurst, a leading Suffragette realised that women could help more. Pankhurst in July 1915 organised a ‘Right to Serve’ march in which 60 000 women took part. There was also an increasing demand for shells due to shortages on the front line.

Lloyd George, the Minister of Munitions had to negotiate with trade unions to let women work. They came to a deal known as the ‘Treasury Agreements’. Women began to work in industrial employment; they began manufacturing munitions and shells. The government backed Pankhurst further by giving them �3000 to organise processions. Also the women war register was established; it contained all the names of women wanting to help. Also more jobs needed filling when, in early 1916 the government introduced conscription as they realised they were in for the long slog. The war wouldn’t be over any time soon.

Vigorous campaigning ensued with extensive propaganda encouraging women to work instead of men in industry, farming and the armed services.

As a result of increased levels of women working birth rates were falling, this was because women were worried about raising children during wartime. So to ease worries, the government increased the number of child welfare centres so that children and babies had a place where they could be cared for.

Female employment levels rose massively due to encouragement, campaigning and thanks to the women’s will to help the country win the war. Another reason is because men had to go fight on the frontlines so in order to keep up the production of munitions and shells, the women had to fill in the men’s jobs.

3. Before the war women were limited to working in textiles even though they were paid at a fraction of the money that men were. Only a third of women were in paid employment. There were strict traditional rules in society which made it clear that some jobs were purely a certain gender. Women of a lower class had to generally work as domestic services for the rich and middle class women worked doing clerical work and teaching. Women were seen as 2nd class citizens.

When the war broke out the men left to go to war meaning that there were vacant jobs that needed to be filled. At first the government were reluctant, but later they realised that women could make a big difference. Protests organised by the Suffragettes encouraged women to work. Women worked in industry, medical and many new areas of employment now. Women though were still treated badly, underpaid and overworked. Some men resented the women and say them as inferior. More positively though is that women became freer and some women over 30 could vote.

After 4 years of war, it was over; the allies had won and the men returned home. Women were pressured to leave their jobs for the men and go back to their old jobs, mostly housekeeping.

Women did leave work and female employment levels returned to what they were before 1914. The jobs that women worked in changed slightly though as more women worked in areas such as law and medicine, pay did also improve.

In the short term it looked like not much had changed, things were back to normal. Women were still paid less and weren’t promoted above men. However in the long run World War 1 changed the role of women and had a massive impact as they earned the respect and privileges that they deserved for their contributions. It had been made clear that women were capable of many things that men could do and over time the mood changed regarding what women could and should do.

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