What new opportunities did the Second World War offer to women? Essay

The Second World War was the beginning of something very special for women in the 19th century. Many opportunities were offered at the end of the War, as women had shown their country the extents of their capability and that they had the ability to go far. This was due to attitudes such as ” We’ve all been shaken out of our ruts and we have all got to show what we are made of today as never before. “, as shown by the ” Girls’ own Paper”. During the War it was assumed that women would stand up and volunteer themselves to take up the jobs left by men away to fight for their country.

However volunteering was at a low, and so it came to be that women between the ages of 19 and 40 were required by law to register with the Labour exchange where they were assigned to a job suited to their capabilities. In 1943 the maximum age was raised to 50. Worth noting, is that married women with children under fourteen were exempt from this requirement, but were still encouraged to work on a voluntary basis.

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A woman named Margery Corbett Ashby” was concerned that voluntary work was contributing to unemployment and critical of the lack of women in responsible positions. ” Women ere encouraged to join the armed forces, and thanks to propaganda, over 500,000 women had joined the Army, Navy or Air force, by 1945. Groups also proving popular with women were the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the Women’s Land Army, and the WAAFS-Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Jobs such as working with a Secret Code breaking groups were a lot safer than some of the more strenuous jobs taken up by some women. Women were expected to maintain and run their households, with their husbands on the front line, but were also expected to work part time in one of these associations, without making a fuss.

Victory for Britain caused major disruption and problems for society. Women were excluded. They were sent home and expected to carry on with the mundane “normal” lives they lived before going through such an exciting experience. Some women enjoyed the thought of going back to normality, looking forward to having a rest from working life, which they were not used to and which probably made them quite tired. Sheila Rowbotham’s “A Century of Women” sees Zelma Katin, a bus conductress during the war, say: “I want to lie in bed until eight o’clock, to eat a meal slowly… o sit in front of the fire, to walk on the hills… ” This type of woman longed for their personal lives to return.

They felt that the working role they had to play during the war interfered with their routine. They missed the little things in their lives, like going shopping or booking a holiday. The Land Army showed how it felt about being set free from work, “When this silly war is over Oh how happy I shall be… ” . However, the majority of women did not want to return to household chores, and found the idea completely ridiculous.

After experiencing that they could arn their own money, be independent and have freedom for, more often than not, the first time in their lives, they felt that it would be a waste to return to their lives, and forget all about what they were capable of. Many women felt belittled, that as soon as the men returned they were dismissed. They felt that men had a cheek to come back after so many years and just take over again, after everything they had been through. The cri??ches which were once funded by the Government used as an incentive to encourage women to go to work were abolished, so that women had to stay in the home.

The Government also funded scientific research which would prove that children, without their mothers at home with them, were slower at developing and sad, making the women feel guilty and again, stay at home. After the War many women were congratulated for their bravery and successful work. Four women were awarded the ” George Cross”, a medal to reward their bravery, one women for saving an RAF pilot’s life during a bombing, others for just as heroic acts. Many more jobs were becoming available to women after the Second World War, although not every one paid as well as some women had probably hoped.

Factories producing cotton, rayon and nylon, were among other industries keen to recruit, and keep women in their workforce. The number of female clerical and administrative workers significantly increased, as well as numbers in the Women’s Land Army. This included professions such as nursing the sick, midwifery and primary teaching. In “A Century of Women” Sheila Rowbothman tells us about a woman called Marguerite Morgan a mother of three in Coventry. Her son’s headmistress, out of desperation, turned to Marguerite begging her to become a primary teacher, as the number of pupils was too uch for herself and her seventeen year old assistant to cope with. As the numbers of factories looking to recruit female workers increased, so did the number of female employees, and so in 1948 there were a recorded 350,000 increase in insured female workers than 1939.

However studies showed that the most prominent figures in society, especially in the science and business sectors, were mostly male, with very few female workers. This probably has something to do with Sheila Rowbothman’s view that “Among those who gave evidence was Joan Robinson, the left Keynesian economist, who observed that women earners were likely to be lower han men’s anyway because of child birth and childcare. ” If women feel that they are unable to ever earn equal pay to men, they are less likely to be interested in putting themselves in a working situation, in which they will not have any benefits worthwhile to them. Many women would have preferred to return to their everyday lives. The Equal Pay Campaign of 1946, after much propaganda and persuasion from parliamentary feminists, was renewed, and women were now able to earn nearly as much as men, although never quite catching up with the men’s pay rate..

However sources show that no matter what, women would always be given 25% less sick and unemployment benefits than men. These women also had their pensions reduced. In 1946 allowances for couples with children were introduced. These were meant to be paid straight into the husbands bank account, however after Eleanor Rathbone’s objections, demanding that it was only fair for the women that they were independent when it came to family matters, disregarding William Beveridge’s belief that benefits should only be granted to single widowed women, it came to pass that this money would go directly to the mothers account.

This is important as it shows that finally females were being allowed to have their say in things and were actually getting paid attention for the first time. Although according to Sheila Rowbothman, “Geoffrey Thomas conducted a survey in 1947 of 2, 807 women, he found that the majority did not feel they could do paid work if it interfered with their domestic lives,” university was being made available for all women due to the Eugenics Education Society who decided that “inadequate mothering was a result of inherited low intelligence. ” This gave many the opportunities to gain skills and learn information they thought hey would never have the chance to learn. It also resulted in an educated generation of women during the 1950’s-1960’s. Even the number of female doctors, teachers and lawyers significantly increased as they were now able to work full time even after they married.

Women were being encouraged to go to university alongside the men to earn a proper education and degrees so that their quality of future would be bettered. Part time work was introduced to encourage women with young families as she would still be able to look after her family, but she ould have the independence of having her own job, somewhere she could escape to when domestic life got too much for her. As we can see, opportunities for women after the Second World War had significantly improved from what they had previously been. Work placements were easier for women to come by, as they were being encouraged to become educated, something which before the War was never considered. Women were becoming noticed for their hard work and efforts, and were being rewarded with these new opportunities. They had come a long way, however it would be a long time before women would ever been seen as equals to men.

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