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The Changing Role and Status of Women in Britain 1890- 1918

Pre War

Before the outbreak of war in August 1914, women held very traditional roles in family life. They were expected to clean, cook and look after children.

Changes

Many working class women were already in

employment, and they mainly held traditional female

jobs in

domestic service or in textile factories and

mills. Many were still tied to the home or continued to work for very low wages An emerging women’s movement campaigned to

During the War

the

role

of

women

change

dramatically

at

the

beginning and during the war .

 

Changes

 

There was

a

huge shortage of workers in industry

and farming as

the men who did these jobs were

away fighting. Women felt it was their duty to step

up

and

fill

these roles,

dealing with the labour

shortage.

 

During the War, more opportunities opened up to

women

and

the

types

of

jobs

they

undertook

changed.

Types of Jobs During the War

Women began to make war products such as guns

and ammunition, taking on jobs operating heavy machinery and driving vehicles. The Women’s Land Army was formed to ensure food production continued as so many male agricultural labourers were in the army. Women also headed to the War front to cook and to work in hospitals, treating injured soldiers, while many nurses continued to help the injured at home. By 1918 there were 1.3 million more women at work than in 1914

Whilst women undertook more ‘male’ jobs, the significance of their traditional role of wife and mother was also emphasised. Women were told they had a patriotic duty to encourage their men to fight in the war. Women also helped the men at war to remain motivated, sending more than 12 million letters and parcels to the troops every week, and reminding them about the home and family they would return to after the War.

Post War

The end of the War meant that women were expected to return to their previous roles and allow the returning soldiers to take back their jobs. Whilst the number of women in work returned to pre- war levels, the War did result in a number of permanent changes. A wider range of jobs were now available to women, such as working in shops, being a telephonist or a typist. Single women could also become a nurse or a teacher. Changes in style and appearance made necessary by war work - wearing trousers and short hair - became

Were Women Respected Between 1890 and 1918?

Beginning of the period:

the number of women who were properly educated was very low lower wages than men ‘separate spheres’ - women should focus on family life, and were more hysterical than men in 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union was formed - this helped to reinforce the idea of women being irrational as they did things like smashing windows

During and after the war:

Attitudes towards women changed during the war, the suffragist and suffragette campaigns were put on hold and women began helping the war effort Women were shown to be more rational than previously believed and even showed that they were capable of doing the same jobs as men. This meant they did not have separate spheres. Women earned lots of respect, but still weren’t

perceived to be on the same level as men - they were payed lower wages for doing the same jobs. Women were definitely more respected at the end of

the

eriod than the be innin

which contributed to

Sources

Sources May 1915 poster by E. J. Kealey, from 1917 poster by Henry George Gawthorn advertising

May 1915 poster by E. J. Kealey, from

1917 poster by Henry George Gawthorn advertising for recruitment t th W ' L d
1917 poster by Henry
George Gawthorn
advertising for recruitment
t
th
W
'
L
d