Evaluate the impact of the First World War on the social, economic and political position of women Essay

There were many rules that women had to follow. When they went out, whether they were on a date or no, they had to be fully clothed. No part of their body could be seen apart from their face. There was also no make up allowed. If they were out on date, they had to have a chaperone with them at all times to make sure they didn’t get up to anything. This was usually an aunt. Another social rule women had was that if they went out swimming, their swimming costumes had to cover their arms and legs. Some women even went into the pool in a carriage.

Once they were in the pool, only then would they get out to go for a swim. They would do the same when they wanted to get out again. One of the other stereotypical views of women in the society was that women should stay at home and look after the children. Only some of the working class went out to work. If women did go out to work, then they could only work in certain areas, such as domestic service and domestic system.

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Statistics of women’s employment in the 1870’s and 1880’s show that 3 million women were working in domestic system and 1. 2 million were working in domestic service. 0,000 women worked in agriculture, 292,000 in textile factories and 1. 2 million did other work outside the house. However, they always earnt less than the man did. And whatever they earn was given to the man of the house, so they still didn’t have any freedom, and couldn’t buy anything. So the man owned everything. In the eyes of the law, women had no rights what so ever. There was a law, which said that women didn’t even have the right to vote. However from the 1850’s, a group was founded, fighting for the suffrage of women. They were called the suffragists (NUWSS).

It was a group founded by Millicent Fawcett they used peaceful methods, such as petitions and processions to get their point across. This didn’t really work, as they didn’t really get their point across by 1900. Eventually, some of the members of the group got really fed up, so another group was founded in 1903. This was called the suffragettes (WSPU). It was founded by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters. Their methods were more violent compared to the suffragists. They did things such as, made attacks on properties and carried out arson, bombing, and sabotage.

Their other method, which was quite successful, was that women who were with the suffragettes would commit crimes and deliberately get arrested and sent to prison. In prison, they would go on a hunger strike. But they would be force-fed. This was published on posters for the public to be seen before the general election in 1910. This would show that the people in prison were bad because they were force-feeding the prisoners. Because of the methods used, both groups had got support from the public and the government.

In 19911, the government were going to write a conciliation bill, which would give women the vote. Most people in the government agreed for this to happen. However, in November 1911, the government changed its mind and wrote the franchise bill instead, which didn’t give women the vote. As a result, the suffragettes increased the amount of violence and they started to get arrested again. Because of this violence, they lost more and more votes. By 1913, there were 48 more people against the suffrage of women then for. After 1913, they did very extreme things.

They threw an axe at the Prime Minister, Asquith; they planted bombs in railway stations and in Westminster Abbey. An explosion as led to a fire at the home of David Lloyd George, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. However, the prime minister didn’t give in. Even by 1914, they still didn’t get the vote. But in 1914, the war broke out and both groups stopped campaigning to help with the war. At the start of the war, all campaigns were suspended both by the suffragettes and suffragist:

“Women, your country needs you, let us show ourselves worthy of citizenship, whether our claim be recognised or not. Millicent Fawcett – Source A. This showed that those women, who did campaign, did care about their country and they weren’t selfish like some people thought they were. As soon as the men went of to war, the women started to take over their jobs. There were so many men gone that women could almost pick which area they wanted to work in. However some women were refused work because if their lack of skills and experience. But most women were accepted because most of the employers thought that this would be a chance for them to show other people just how good women were.

The types of areas they worked in were, metals, chemicals, food and drink, wood, leather, munitions, transport, Agriculture and government establishments. Some women also remained working in textiles and clothing and Domestic service. However, the amount of women workers in Domestic service and textiles decreased. This was probably because there were more opportunities for women to get higher pay in more professional jobs. They would also be able to more experience this way as well. By the end of the war, there was still the highest number of women working in Textiles and Domestic service, but the number of women had decreased quite a lot.

There were also lots of women working in Munitions factories and metals factories. These numbers had increased a lot. The number of women needed in all work areas had also increased because in 1916 there was a Military services act. This required all men between the ages of 18 and 41 to go to war. The war was losing large numbers of men and they were not enough volunteers to go to war because the men back in England had not seen many people come back home. So they knew that most people died there. During the war women were also seen as cooks. In 1917, the second U-Boat campaign had left Britain devastated.

Its food supply was only down to a few days. So, posters were displayed in streets, saying that the less food women ate, the more chance Britain had of winning the war because this way the soldiers would get to eat lots of food. This also caused an increase in the number of women working in the food and drink industries. During the war, the women were also able to develop more confidence. This was because of the jobs they did and the money they earned. The money enabled them to be able to buy anything they wanted to. There were no restrictions as the men were not there.

The clothes they wore no longer had to cover every part of their body, e. g. they did have to wear gloves, which covered their arms. They could also wear sleeveless swimming costumes and make up as well. They could smoke and drink as much as they wanted as well. Because of the jobs they did, they got some of their respect back from people and people began to support their campaigns for women’s right to vote again. But in 1915, the government realised that they had a problem. The voting system demanded that the person who was voting should have lived in the country for at least 12 months before voting.

However, all the men were away fighting, so they couldn’t vote, therefore this was a problem. So, the government decided to change the law so that the soldiers got a vote as well. The women then saw their opportunity and began to put pressure on the government for their right to vote. There were no demonstrations, like before, but there were lots of meetings held. The parliament finally gave in and passed the law in 1918 that gave women the over 30 the vote, as well as fighting men. They gave the vote to women over 30 because they thought that these women would be voting the same as their husbands.

There were many long-term effects on women socially, economically, and politically. The changes to the women’s social position up to 1931 were that: young women no longer had chaperones – nobody had time anymore to go around with the young women. Also because the image and attitudes towards women had changed; Women’s clothing because less restrictive – because the men weren’t around during the war the women had money to spend and wore what they wanted to wear and they carried on like this after the war as well. Nobody saw them any different though.

Also because they worked in factories so they had to wear more trousers so they could work more comfortably; Make-up became acceptable – Again, the money that the women earned became less restricted by men so they could buy whatever they wanted to; Some women wore swimming costumes which didn’t cover their arms and legs – the attitudes toward women had changed; the war had given women greater confidence; there were more and more successful women whose stories were reported in the newspapers and whom other women could look to as role models.

There were also changes to the Economical position of women. As soon as the men, who hadn’t died, came back from the war, all the women started to get sacked from their positions. However, lots of men had died in the war and most people were left as widows, so they couldn’t afford not to work, therefore they were forced to go back to work in Domestic Service or Domestic System. This was because the jobs they worked in during the war paid quite a high wage and women weren’t expected to be getting high wages.

They either had to go and look after the children or go and work in jobs, which paid a lower wage. Some people argued back when they were sacked and some women kept their professional job altogether. However, this was not a good thing for the women. The consequence of this was that men sometimes physically attacked them. They were also accused of depriving men of their jobs and blamed because of the high unemployment in the 1920’s and 1930’s. However, women had achieved some equality in the workplace by 1931. Women’s wage was only half those of men, even if they were doing the same work.

However, when the women got married, they were required to give up their job. Many trade unions also continued to oppose greater working opportunities for women because they were a threat to men’s jobs and war. Also, only a minority of working women belonged to trade unions, so they did not organise themselves to fight for better pay and working conditions. There were also changes to they political position of women up 1931. The many change was that women over 30 had been given the vote in 1918 and all women over 21 had been given the vote in 1928.

Another change was that there were now 15 women in parliament and Margaret Bondfield was the first woman cabinet minister. She had been elected in 1929. There were also lots of changes in the law, which included women. The changes were that: Women MP’s could now be elected, the first one was elected in 1918; Single women were now allowed to go into different professions (Sex disqualification act, 1919); women were granted equal rights to men in divorce cases (1923); the civil service admitted women to the government service.

They had the same right over their children as men did (1925); they are able to decide whether they want to have children or not (1930). From the beginning of the 20th Century to the 1930’s, the position of women, socially, economically and politically had changed enormously. One of the reasons that these changes had occurred was because of the First World War. This war was a major contribution factor in changing the position of women. It changed the attitudes of people towards women because it enabled women to work in professions that they would never have been able to work in before.

This showed that they were responsible and were capable of making decisions. People saw this and started to believe in women and so their attitudes changed. Before the war, the suffragettes and suffragists campaigns were getting out of hand. There was too much violence. As soon as the war began, the campaigns stopped and the women started to help people in the war. So there was four years with no violence. When the war was over and the soldiers returned, the law had to be changed otherwise the soldiers wouldn’t be able to vote.

In this new law that was going to be passed, women saw their opportunity and took it. They started to talk to the government about getting the vote. The government, because they didn’t want to start up the violence again, they gave the vote to enough women but not all women, so it wouldn’t start the violence up again. However, there were also other reasons why women got the vote. One of them was because of the suffragettes and suffragists campaigns for the suffrage of women.

As soon as the war started, the suffragettes and suffragists suspended their campaign. This showed that they were selfish. They also did this because they wanted to show that they could contribute to their country. Before the war, the campaigns had almost persuaded the government to change the law and give women the vote, but a dangerous outbreak of violence towards the end of 1911 changed people’s minds. However, throughout the war they gained their support back again, through their jobs and their support.

Socially, their position had improved and they were now given much more freedom. The only disadvantage was that after the war, women went backwards economically. This was because they lost the jobs that they had had during the war as the men had come back. So they were jobless, as they were before the war. Overall, I think that the war was the most important contribution in changing the position of women, socially, politically and economically for a little while. However, I think that the suffragettes and suffragists campaign helped a lot as well.

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