On the 28th of June 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. Within days World War had broken out. The suffragettes suspended all political activities and Britain became a unified country. Very quickly Britain had to build a large army and soon conscription was introduced. This meant that a lot of workers became soldiers and by early 1916 Britain had a shortage of 2 million workers. Before the war women’s place was seen at the home and most worked in domestic service or didn’t work at all. But because of the lack of workers in industry women were called to fill in the gap.
By the end of the war women workers had increased dramatically, especially in industry, as source 1 shows. But this didn’t come easily. At first lots of men objected to this and, in manufacturing especially, employers feared they lacked the necessary skills. But soon they had no choice but to employ women. And women quickly proved themselves to be quick learners and adept workers. With this they gained independence, shown in source 10, as well as money. As soon as the war began there became a shortage of workers. Women took any chance they could get to leave domestic service.
As the women in source 6 says domestic service was poorly paid and the conditions were much worse than in the factories. But this source is only the opinion of 1 woman and there are other sources that disagree with this. Because she knew she was writing to the natural history museum it may not be entirely factual and could be biased, as she would want her letter to be shown and to exaggerate would make that more likely. At first women would just do office work, but as the war continued and more and more men joined the army there became huge worker shortages.
The munitions crisis was the first time that women were employed in huge numbers. The government even set an example by opening women only factories. They also tried to encourage women to work, with propaganda. The poster in source 3 shows the government showing how good the women’s land army is and to get them to enrol. But of course this is probably not what working conditions would be like and is extremely biased. But it does show that the government were trying hard to get women into work. And with these jobs came money.
Source 7 tells of girls who earn 10 times the pay of a corporal, buying drinks for soldiers at a convalescent depot. However this book was written in 1990 and he may not remember everything after all that time, and the emotional language suggests that this extract may be biased because he said what he felt rather than the facts. But source 6 and source 8 agree with this. The woman in source 6 says how she earnt more than twice the amount of money than her job in domestic service. The poem in source 8 says how women would be able to spend and live very lavish lifestyles.
Source 7 says that the women would earn much more than many of the men in the army. This was new for nearly all women as the husband would always earn money while the women stayed at home and would rely on their husband for all of the households income. The early 20th century was the start of equal representation for all men, but not women. Although there had been campaigns by many women to get the vote it wasn’t until the Great War that people started to take women seriously, and as the war dragged on and women’s role increased both women and men were starting to think that they deserved the vote.
They had proven themselves equal to men in almost everyway. Former British PM H. Asquith’s speech in source 9 shows how men changed there minds during the war. Before the war Asquith was against women gaining the vote but his change of mind shows how much women had done during the war. He is admitting he is wrong so he may not be lying although he could be saying it to gain popularity by appealing to women. Even if it isn’t what he truly thinks it does represent the shift of opinion about women. However not all these changes came easily.
After 100’s of years of inequality, not all men were going to accept these changes. Although women did get jobs, they were never treated fairly by men. The women in source 12 tells of how men would give her wrong directions or not give her the right tools. Some men would even nail up her draw and pour oil in it. But this source does disagree with source 6 and because it was an interview for a newspaper it may be exaggerated to make a good story. Some of the jobs making munitions involved dangerous chemicals. The women making these were not used to the chemicals and were a danger to their health.
Source 11 shows how susceptible women were to falling ill. It says that 6 or more of the women would be lying outside ill and would also work very long hours for little pay. Although the women in source 11 was a suffragette and this would mean she could be very biased. But from my own knowledge I know that there were many accidents in the workplace such as the explosion at Silvertown in south-east London. With all the casualties in the war it not only had an effect on their families’ lives, but it also had a huge impact on the single women back in Britain.
The bloodiest war in human history had left 2 million women without a partner for a whole generation. These women had to live their lives never having a family after being brought up being told that that is the aim of a woman’s life. At the end of the war millions of men returned home from the front line after victory over the Germans. Most women were kicked out of their jobs and had to return to domestic service or stay at home. Source 14 also tells of how women who stayed on the dole rather than go into domestic service were called ‘scroungers’ who a few months ago had been called heroines.
This source is very reliable because it is a secondary source with the benefit of hindsight. Although during the war women had been given jobs they all had give them back and return to life as normal. But many didn’t want to. In 4 years women had transformed themselves from housewives and maids to factory workers and bus conductresses. They had proven themselves to be equal to men in every single way. They had been given jobs which before 1914 were men only jobs. They gained more money and with that independence from men. And many women even gained political representation.
The First World War had raised respect for women and changed the lives of many women. But when the war finished women were expected to return to normal life before the war. They were pressured into giving up their jobs but then slandered when they were living off benefits. It is fair to say that many of these changes were short term but there were some long term changes. And these led to votes for all adult Britons; men and women. Things may have taken a step back after the war but the war had been the first big steps forward for women’s rights.