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Women’s Lives Affected By WW1

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Published: Wed, 03 May 2017

On 4th August 1914, the United Kingdom declared war on Germany, entering into what would later become known as one of the bloodiest and most horrific world wars of all time. Immediately, the suffragettes and the suffragists dropped all their drive for equality, and Britain unified, readying itself for the war that lay ahead.

Very early on in the war effort, British Industry began to find itself with a critical shortage of labour, and as England fell deeper and deeper into the war, more and more men were required to protect their country and join the military, and in the first two years of the war over 3,000,000 men had volunteered to join the military. This combined with the introduction of Conscription in 1916, resulted in a huge hole in the British economy as its workforce began to diminish. This was especially true in the manufacturing industry, where demand had never been greater, and the need for more and more weapons and other military supplies was working the British Industrial machine to its limits.

This loss of labour was crippling to the British Economy, and the English Government knew they had two million fewer workers than were required to meet the requirements of the country, and so, rather out of necessity than choice, more and more employers began training and recruiting women, and by the end of the war in 1918, the number of women employed in Britain had soared, as shown in Source 2. Here the rise in women’s employment throughout the different sectors of the British Economy is clear, and this is incredibly useful in seeing just how big a part, women played in the war effort. In my opinion it is a very reliable source and one that is very useful to historians. It is official government research data, comparing employment levels from before the war and after the war, and was likely created very soon after the end of the war. Its primary purpose would be as a record of women’s employment levels to inform bureaucracy, and also the government of the changing trends in the employment of women. As it is purely quantitative data, was created after the war, and given its creator and purpose, I think it is very unlikely that the figures will have been skewed for propaganda purposes, as there would no longer be any requirements for that in its contemporary context. I would also take this to mean that there is very little chance if bias. In my opinion Source 2 is an invaluable source in assessing how the lives of women were affected in WW1, as it not only shows that it opened up the opportunity of employment to millions more women, but also that women were no longer confined to just the ‘women’s’ domestic service. As more and more men went to war, women had more freedom of job choice, and were able to work in positions that would have before been viewed as the sole territory of males.

Women now found themselves able to, and even encouraged to, take on these positions, as shown in the poster in Source 4. The poster depicts a woman ploughing her fields, and preparing the farm. In the poster the sun is rising which is likely to imply a new dawn for women, and the start of a new era of freedom and equality for women. The source was created by the government in 1917, as a Propaganda poster, the primary purpose of which would have been to motivate and inspire women to enrol in women’s Land as part of a recruitment drive. This is a very useful source, as it displays very clearly just how keen the government was to get women into employment to keep the country going, and how big a part the women played in the war effort. Before the war, the suffragettes had been desperately campaigning against the government, for equality between men and women, and for the freedom and rights of women, but their successes were fairly limited. Now three years later, women found themselves being actively encouraged to take the positions of men, and given the freedom, and the opportunity to prove they deserved the equality, that they had been fighting so hard for. While the messages with-in this poster may have been subject to exaggeration due to the propagandised nature of the source, I think this is a highly valuable and trustworthy source in assessing how the lives of women were affected by World War One.

This newfound freedom was a huge turning point in the lives for many women, and many leapt at the chance to move away from the domestic services, giving them the opportunity to earn much higher wages, and experience life outside of the home and the domestic sphere. As Mrs H. Felstead recounts in source 5, the domestic services were very poorly paid, for incredibly long hours, and many hated it. The primary purpose of this source would be to provide insights to the feelings of women who experienced these changes first hand. This source shows just how much of a difference the changes in women’s employment made to some women. They could suddenly earn a vast amount of money compared to what they were used to and in a more interesting, but also vital, role in being able to contribute to the war.

This source is limited both in the fact that it is only the view of one woman, and so cannot be used to judge the views of women in general at the time, due to the significant gap in time between when it was written, and the war itself, there is a chance that this could be subject to a certain amount of memory loss, or influence from other sources or memories, that she may have experienced. However it does seem to agree with other sources and the general consensus that at the time, women did experience much better pay in jobs that they enjoyed far more than those they had previously in the ‘domestic services’. Overall I think that this source, especially when used in conjunction with the large number of other supporting sources, does help to show that women’s lives were affected by the war, and in some ways, for the better. The fact that it is a first person account, by someone who experienced the domestic services, and the drastic changes first hand, is very useful, as it enlightens us to the thoughts and feelings of the women at the time, which is the most important aspect to study when considering whether and how women’s lives were affected by the war.(Possibly biased against Domestic Services, due to her obvious hatred of the sector)

However, whilst women may have gained more employment opportunities, and more freedom, it may not have been to the magnitude that the government/country had suggested/thought, certainly for most women at least. This source contrasts somewhat with the messages of sources 4 & 5, about the true extent to which women’s employment and equality had really changed. It tells of how many male-dominated professions actually remained, for the most part, that way, and that even in areas where women played a huge role, such as in munitions factories, they were still considered inferior to men, and were still paid less than males, which suggests that the lives of women may not have been affected as much other sources would have indicated.

It was produced in 1988, a significant time after the war, but a huge advantage to this, especially when considering the resources that the BBC would have been able to put into this investigation, is that this will have been carefully researched, and a large variety of different sources will likely have been assessed in order to ensure that the resulting viewpoint is as accurate as possible, and a true reflection to the situation at that time. Taking this into account and given that it is part of a factual program with the purpose of informing people it is highly unlikely to be biased, as there is no obvious cause or reason for this to be the case. It is for these reasons that I find this to be a very dependable source.

As the war drew to a close, millions of British Serviceman prepared to come home after proving victorious in one of the most horrific wars of all time. These men, who had risked their lives to protect their country, and seen many of their friends and colleagues killed, expected to come home to their old lives, and jobs, and an increasing number of women who had been such a vital part in the war effort, suddenly found themselves being sacked, and forced back to the way things were before the war. It suddenly seemed that the war had not actually emancipated women, and the effects of the war were going to be short lived.

Source 10 Analysis

Textbook produced in 1994, with the purpose of informing people, and to educate students. Have benefit of looking through lots of sources etc… but may be limited because of the gap between war and its creation.

Source 10 shows the extent to which they hated it.

Could say Source 9 would disagree with this to a major extent. Propaganda drives, bring in Source 4.

Did the war change the way in which women were employed?

Did the war lead to a change in the political position of women?

Did the war really emancipate women or were the effects short lived? Not for all. Source 10

In what way did women contribute to the War effort?


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