By 1914, campaigns to improve the status of women in British society had improved their legal position. They were able to divorce and keep their property. Many women were actively employed in factories and business. The typewriter and telephone had opened up numerous opportunities for females to earn their own wages. However despite the efforts of the Women’s Social and Political Union and the National Union for Women’s Suffrage Societies, women were no nearer the vote. The vote was, in the eyes of many women, the crucial acknowledgement of legal equality with men.
It is argued that the contribution of women to the war effort was pivotal in disproving previously held views that women would not be able to use the vote properly because they were weak, emotionally unstable, more suited to bringing up children and looking after their families than bothering their heads with politics.
It must be remembered that gender is but one of the many ways people can make distinctions between people. Not all women had a similar experience of life; class, income, education, urban or rural had crucial impacts upon lives. More importantly, especially for women who were wives and mothers, war work and domestic chores were not either or. They did both!
The BBC history website has a web article by Kate Adie that makes a compelling case for the point of view that women’s contribution to the war effort was significant and led, in part to the winning of the vote for women age 30+ in 1918.
Your challenge is to take a look at the BBC iWonder link in the Resources section and watch the video at the top of the page, presented by Kate Adie. Looking at this evidence and the other information presented in the Resources, do you think Ms Adie’s arguments are representative of Devon?
You can present your responses in a picture gallery or as a piece of prose, as in Ms Adie’s script.
If you are feeling more adventurous, you might like to link your sources and script in a full presentation.
Ms Adie’s film makes the point that the contribution of women to the war effort was a turning point in their campaign for political and social equality.
It is important that students’ grasp the nature of pre war attitudes towards women and the solid resistance of the Government to Suffragette and Suffragist campaigns, if not MPs, many of whom supported some form of voting reform.
It should also be borne in mind that despite Asquith’s vote of thanks to women during the franchise reform debates of 1917, the Franchise Reform Act of 1918 only gave the vote to women aged 30 and over. Moreover Trade Union pressure ensured that most, if not all, of the women who undertook the work of serving men had to give up their jobs, which were offered to returning service men.
The following questions can be considered in preparation for this task:
- Why were women needed to work?
- What were the typical attitudes towards women (include pre-war suffrage debates)
- Who wanted women on the land and who didn’t?
- How and where were women trained to undertake farm work?
- What types of women came forward?
- How significant were issues of class, urban or rural living on the way women experienced the war?
- What examples can you find of what they did?
- Great Bidlake Farm in Bridestowe was a women only farm. What more can you find out about it?
BBC iWonder – Kate Adie