The Effect of the First World War on Women's Rights
By 1918, when the war had ended, there had been a change of attitude
towards women and the right to vote. The Representation of the People
Act gave the vote to some women and before the war all attempts by the
women's movement to get the vote passed through Parliament had failed.
Therefore, the work done by women in the war (1914-1918) proved to be
very important in bringing about the change of attitudes towards women
and allowing some to vote. The work done by women in the war was a
short-term reason. Attitudes towards women and giving them the vote
had been changing for a long time before this. There had been
improvements in career and education opportunities for women and their
rights in the family. This indicated a change in attitude and
improvement in their status. The women's movement, the Suffragists and
Suffragettes, was also successful in keeping the issue in the public
eye, but had failed to get the vote. Thus there were many reasons why
attitudes were changing but work of women in the First World War was
probably the main one.
When war broke out in 1914, the Suffragists and Suffragettes stopped
their campaigning to concentrate on helping towards the war effort.
They 'filled in the gap' left by the men who went out to fight. The
women took over jobs that the men did before and it was this, which
changed men's view towards female suffrage. There had been a
'revolution in jobs' because women started to do jobs only men had
done before. Women had not been considered capable before and at first
it was strange for women to be having a totally different role. There
was a big shortage in labour due to the men leaving to fight and in
1916, Britain had up to 2 million workers fewer than they did. Women
were needed to keep the country going.
Women from all different backgrounds took over a variety of different
jobs. Examples were bus conductors, postal workers and the Women's
Land Army was formed in February 1917, to recruit women as farm
labourers. By 1914, 90% of the workers in post offices were women. The
number of women working in transport in 1914 was 18 000 and in 1918 it
was 117 000, which showed a large increase. The number of women
working in areas of work such as metals, chemicals, food and drink,
timber, transport and Government had all increased from 1914 to 1918.
Women working in metals particularly showed a very high increase, as
170 000 women were working in that area of work in 1914 and the number
had risen to 594 000 by 1918. 195 000 women had replaced the men's
jobs. All these areas of work had shown an increase greater than the
number of women that took over the men's jobs. Therefore it showed
that more job opportunities were becoming available for women and it
encouraged women to go out to work, which...