Women Employment Rise During World War I
Largely ignored by the Government, women did not become involved in
war work on a huge scale until after the first year of war. To begin
with their growth in the workplace was confined to the munitions
factories and voluntary work. However, women wanted to do more than
simply knit socks and raise money for the boys at the Front. Their
chance came after the famous 'Shell Scandal' in 1915 which increased
the need for army recruits, and directed attention for a drastic
increase in munitions production.
Lloyd George enlisted the help of the well-known Suffragette Emmeline
Pankhurst, to help advertise the need for female labour. In July 1915
she successfully organised a demonstration to march in the name of a
woman's 'right to serve'.
After the introduction of military conscription in March 1916 the need
for female labour became even more vital and the Government began to
encourage the employment of women, to fill in imperative gaps.
The types of work that women became involved in was varied, often
skilled and sometimes dangerous. For example:
'Women working in larger munitions factories were known as Canaries
because they dealt with TNT which caused their skin to turn yellow.
Around 400 women died from overexposure to TNT during World War One.
Other hazards were more obvious and minor problems were common.'
Women working in the munitions came to be called ‘Munitionettes’; they
made up a large proportion of women working in that specific industry.
To the extent that by mid 1917 it is estimated that women produced
around 80% of all munitions.
The industry which employed the most amount of women was in the
transport industry, where they took on work as conductresses (and
sometimes, as drivers), on buses, trams and underground trains. By
February 1917 the total number of bus conductresses leapt from the