World War I And The Changing Role Of Women

1633 words - 7 pages

World War I, also known as the Great War, affected the population of Britain like no other war had affected previous generations. It has been estimated that around six million British people had direct experience of trench warfare during the Great War. Before the war, the most common employment for a woman was as a domestic servant. The belief that a women’s place is in the home was repeated frequently in the century after 1850. However, unmarried women were also employed in what were seen to be suitable occupations. When war broke out in 1914, the idea of women working was met with resistance due to the widespread belief that the women’s place is in the home. Due to the enormous demands of ...view middle of the document...

Though many of the lower class women worked in what was considered suitable occupations, the middle class did not approve of married women working; to them a leisured wife was a sign of a man’s success. Middle class women were withdrawn not only from paid labour but from many of the domestic tasks as well. Their role was to devote themselves to their husbands and children. Women were in many of the worst-paid trades, were ill unionised, and were adversely affected in industry by the assumption that they would leave on marriage. Many of the most unpleasant and low-aid jobs were done by women, and the most exploitative were done by married women who had no better jobs to turn to. The Royal Commission on Labour request reports from the “Lady commissioners” on women’s employment around the country in the 1890s and it showed evidence of low pay, poor conditions and few opportunities for anything other than unskilled or semiskilled work. The reports also showed that women always got lower wages than men on similar work. Women were born to be wives and mothers, and working-class girls who earned their own living were supposed to accept that once they were married their place was at the home where their duty was to tend to husbands and bear children. The Great War changed the role of women in the workplace forever.
The immediate outbreak of the war caused an opening up of a vast range of new jobs for women. As more and more young men left their old work to fill the need for soldiers, women were able to take their place in the workplace. By 1915 women were being employed in non-industrialized jobs, replaced men in offices and in the transport system. Women were suddenly in demand for work on the land, on transport, in hospitals and most significantly, in industry and engineering. Women were also involved in the vital munitions factories, building ships and doing work such as loading and unloading coal. This rapid munitions factories continued in 1916 and 1917 and women also increasingly replaced men in private, non-munitions industries such as grain milling, sugar refining, brewing, building, surface mining and shipyards. Married women, previously told that they should not work and that their role was in the home, was now invited back to the industry and made up a large proportion of workers in many areas. Married women made up 40 percent of all working women throughout the country. In July 1914, 3,276,000 women were classed as employed and in April 1917, the figure had increased to 4,507,000. After the war women were allowed to work in higher professions that were restricted to them before such as solicitors and accountants as well as doctors or civil servants. This was supported by all the major feminist groups who suddenly, “[b]ecame avid patriots and organisers of the women in support of the war effort.” Women became more visible in the world of work; they were seen to be doing important jobs. By the late 1918, more than 7 million employed in...

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