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Roles of Women in WW1

By Edited Oct 27, 2013 3 3

The First World War changed the lives of women in Britain, in this article I am going to look at some of the main changes and the reasons behind them: What was life like for women before the war? What jobs could they do? How were there lives affected by the war? What jobs did they do at home? What opportunities became available in the military? How did women's status change during and after the war? Were these changes long or short term?

Before the war Upper Class women did not work, whilst women from the middle and the working class did. The working class women worked mainly as maids, in domestic service and in factories. They worked very hard to keep their families going. There were fewer Middle class women working than Working Class but those that did, worked as teachers, nurses, telephonists, typists and as sales assistants. When women from the Middle Class married, most of them had to quit their jobs, but there are sources which say that women from Lancashire were still expected to work in the textile mills, even if they were married. Upper Class women didn't have to work because they were all ready well off.

Female Dentist

But the war soon changed all this; it allowed lower class women to work in higher careers like lawyers, accountants and doctors. Source 1 shows us a women working as a dentist which wouldn't have been possible before the war. Women were allowed to join the services, such as the Women's Land Army. At first the government were reluctant to let them fill in the positions the men had left behind. Source 2 shows us that the government really wanted to have people join the Land Army because they spent the time, effort and money to create a poster. They are also saying that "God blesses the woman

Female Propaganda Poster - God Speeds The Plough
who works the plough" which is another major incentive to join. Source 3 shows us that women started to work in munitions factories. This tells us that the government are now realising that women can work and that they need their help to carry on sending munitions to the front. At the end of the war the number of women working in munitions had increased form 200,000 to 900,000. This had more than tripled! This is quite surprising because munitions work was dangerous and very unhealthy. In fact many of the jobs women did were dangerous; they drove buses, trains and ambulances. 48,000 worked as labourers in
Women working in a munition factory
the Women's Land Army. This showed men that women had stamina and skill on jobs which men thought only they could do. Women working in factories earned 3-5 pounds a week, a lot compared to what they normally got which was only 2 pounds before the war, when they were working as a maid or in domestic service. 210,000 vacancies remained even though they wanted to show men they were capable.

The government are starting to find women useful. In source 4, it shows us a women standing with her arms outstretched,

Female Propaganda Poster - Come Into The Factories
saying "Women of Britain, Come into the factories." This tells us that the government wanted women to start working in the jobs men used to do, this is a big movement for women because it shows that the government are finding women useful. Women were quickly recruited into traditional nursing jobs once the war had broken out. 23,000 women served as qualified nurses, some of them on the western front, and they had to be at least 23 years old before they were allowed abroad. A further 80,000 volunteered as nursing assistants in the Voluntary Aid Detachments, VAD. Women in the VAD had only basic first aid training and were not paid, so they tended to come from wealthy families. Women's services were established in 1917, when the government allowed women to join the forces. 100,000 women joined the Women's Land Army Auxiliary Corps, the Women's Royal Naval Services and the Women's Royal Air Force. Here they took over clerical and administrative jobs normally done by men. This enabled the men to go to the front. In source 5 it tells the women to say to their husbands that they should go to the front.
Female Propaganda Poster - Say Go
This source tells us that women are now being used by the government, so the government are paying attention to what women can do. After the war women were allowed to work in higher professions such as solicitors and accountants as well as doctors or civil servants. This is because of the Sexual Qualification Removal Act and the Right to Serve procession. The Right to Serve procession made the government change their minds about women working as this was the only way to keep up production, whilst The Sexual Qualification Act actually allowed women to work in the same jobs as men. In 1919 Oxford allowed women to study degrees for the first time. Women could stand for election into Parliament and Lady Astor was the first women to be elected into a seat in 1919. Women were able to vote at the age of 30 in 1918. The war gave women a greater variety of jobs but most of these were lost at the end of the war. There were still better prospects for higher careers after the war such as lawyers and accountants as well as doctors or dentists. A good example of this is that in 1911 women made up 6% of those employed in the higher professions. By 1915 they had increased to only 8%. In 1921 the percentage of the female population with a job was 31%. This was a 21% increase from 1911. This is because when the men got back from the war most women voluntarily gave up their new found jobs. Only a few of the Upper Class women did work after the war.

The government finally admitted 18 months after the war, that women had been filling in for the men whilst they were at the front. This was because when the men got back from the front 600,000 women left their jobs, most of them voluntarily. A long term affect is that women gained more confidence in their own abilities. In the 1920's women from the Middle Class challenged traditional ideas about feminine behaviour. These women socialised with men on equal terms, smoked in public and drank in pubs. They also went out with men without a chaperone to watch them.

Female Workers Photo
The war brought about many changes to women's lives. Some were long term whilst others were short term. I personally think that there were more long term changes than there were short terms. In most of these cases, they were because women wanted to work and so proved that they were capable of doing a skilled job. Some of the biggest long term changes were that women were actually getting treated as equals and were eventually let vote at the same age as men. Source 6 backs up this point because it shows females working at a munitions factory, which is a male job, looking very relaxed and happy. It proves that women were getting more rights and starting to exercise their new found freedom. I think that the changes were being made mainly in the area of women's rights. Women and men were finally getting to be more equal. This is because the government used women during the war and found out that they were reliable and capable.


May 2, 2010 9:17am
this article confuses WW1 and WW2 posters e.g. Come into the factories poseter is WW2 but Women of Britain say Go is WW1
Apr 17, 2012 6:18pm
Congradulations, I like what you captured in your article Women in Word War I. The early 1900s were a most difficult time for women especially in the work place. I was unaware that that this sudden employment demand occured during world war I so thanks for the info. I enjoyed!
May 7, 2013 9:31am
This is a great article! Women were extremely important in both world wars. Great reminder.
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