Two of my posts last week — here and here — discussed the role of British women in the Great War.

Today’s post concludes the series, which will be included on my Recipes/Health/History page.

Much of the information in this series is from Kate Adie’s Women of World War One, based on her book Fighting on the Home Front, and was shown on BBC2 on August 13, 2014.

Smokes for Soldiers

ww1 A fag afrter a Fight postcardCigarettes — ‘fags’ in the vernacular — were seen to be as important a ration for soldiers as food and medicine.

Lady Denman, so instrumental in furthering Britain’s Women’s Institutes and a suffragette, initiated one of the funds for Lord Kitchener’s programme called Smokes for Soldiers.

Some cigarette cards, which accompanied the packs, showed soldiers in rare moments of quiet contemplation. Those pictured here are from Tony Allen’s fascinating page, Cigarettes & Tobacco and WWI Soldiers.

ww1 Bamforth smokes song card set of three

Carrera’s Black Cat cigarettes had a series of women on their cards. These depicted ladies working in war effort occupations, among them mechanics, coal workers and game keepers. The backs of the cards had brief descriptions of their duties. These made the troops aware that women were doing their part in what was probably seen as being an unheard of and fascinating way. Adie said that the cards proved to be very popular.

Food production

As yesterday’s post on the Women’s Institutes showed, ensuring Britons had enough food was paramount.

The government had statistics showing that farmers’ wives were the most likely ‘to go insane’. Indeed, the WI was able to help them to get out and about, if only to their meetings.

Women working in agriculture now had a new-found purpose, ensuring they could alleviate food shortages.

A further effort was made with the government’s introduction of the Women’s Land Army. Twenty-three thousand young volunteers were sent around the country to till the land, pick fruit, milk cows and take on other responsibilities. Farmers objected that the women were wearing trousers. The government assured them that the workers were feminine and ladylike.

The Women’s Land Army also participated in the same activities during the Second World War, spearheaded by the aforementioned Lady Denman who was their honorary head, sponsored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Shipbuilding and dock work

Another controversial workplace for women were docks and shipyards.

Not surprisingly, male workers were concerned that low wages for inexperienced women would push their own pay packets downward. Unions ensured that any work arrangements were to be for the duration of the war only.

Women worked at several shipyards, including A&P in Tyne and Wear. The work that men previously did was divided up among women which made the pay and employment conditions more acceptable to long-standing male employees.

Medicine

The Voluntary Aid Detachment was comprised of upper and upper middle class women volunteers who cared for soldiers returning from the Front. Downton Abbey explored this.

The late Lady Jane Grey was interviewed in 1986 and said that as a young Voluntary Aid Detachment member she watched a doctor extract a bullet from a wounded soldier.

Nurses were concerned that the volunteers might not be able to care for the soldiers properly and that their recovery might be compromised as a result. However, with the number of injured men returning, they grudgingly agreed that the volunteers were needed.

Where doctors were concerned, only a few hundred women were physicians at the beginning of the war. They treated only women and children.

Some medical school professors refused to have women in their classes. Kate Adie said that, where women were taught, no professor showed them diagrams of the male anatomy.

In Edinburgh, the pioneering doctor Elsie Inglis established the Scottish Women’s Hospitals for Foreign Service Committee, a suffragette-sponsored medical team that provided all-women units to treat the Allied wounded. They had sent teams to France, Serbia and Russia. When Inglis approached the Royal Army Medical Corps, saying the Committee could offer their services, a representative from the War Office responded:

My good lady, go home and sit still.

Instead, the French government took Inglis up on her offer. She and her physicians went to Serbia under their aegis.

Two other suffragette physicians, Dr Flora Murray (left) and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson (right) had better luck inLouisa Anderson.jpg establishing the Endell Street Military Hospital in Covent Garden, London. Perhaps this is because Murray was Emmeline Pankhurst’s personal physician. Alternatively, it might be because the hospital was in London and not overseas. In any event, Endell Street opened in May 1915 and stayed open until August 1919.

The hospital, staffed entirely by women, treated 24,000 men and carried out 7,000 operations. A convoy of ambulances arrived every night with soldiers requiring triage and emergency treatment. One who was treated there said:

This hospital is a triumph for women.

The Great War showed everyone — from soldiers to the general public to the War Office — that women could indeed practise medicine every bit as well as men.

In 1917, both women were made CBEs — Commanders of the British Empire. Today, a home for the elderly, Dudley Court, has replaced the hospital in Endell Street. It, too, has a medical centre, but no doubt staffed by men and women.

The vote

By 1917, there was little women could not do — except vote.

In parliamentary debates, Winston Churchill, who was then a young MP, said that women’s interests were adequately represented by either their husbands or male family members.

However, with most men still fighting in Europe and elections looming, Prime Minister Lloyd George and MPs debated the subject again. On February 6, 1918, they approved the Representation of the People Act by an overwhelming majority: 385 – 55.

It was thought that had the measure not been approved, suffragette demonstrations and violence could continue and perhaps escalate. MPs feared that the Bolshevik revolution might drift to the UK.

The new act did not enfranchise every woman, although it did respond directly to what the suffragettes wanted. (Suffragists, on the other hand, wanted universal suffrage for all men and women.) This act granted the vote to all women over 30 who either owned property or who were married to a registered voter. Many women were still unable to vote, including former suffragettes and those who were working in the war effort.

In some ways, the act did more for men. Prior to that, many were also unable to vote, including the troops in the trenches. Afterward:

All males over 21 gained the vote in the constituency where they were resident. Males who had turned 19 during service in connection with the First World War could also vote even if they were under 21, although there was some confusion over whether they could do so after being discharged from service. The Representation of the People Act 1920 clarified this in the affirmative, albeit after the 1918 general election.

It should be noted that some men — e.g. those affiliated with universities and property owners who had two homes — had a plural vote. In the case of university affiliation, they could vote in both the consituency where they were studying and in their home one. A property owner could vote where he lived and also where he owned property. This was abolished in 1948 in another Representation of the People Act.

Universal women’s suffrage was granted in the 1928 Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act, which gave all women over 21 the right to vote. The suffragists’ cause was finally won.

Post-war women’s work

After the war ended, women employed outside the home feared for the future.

Men returning home from the war expected and got their jobs back.

Six thousand munitionettes marched on Parliament for the right to continued employment. However, the government sent the message that women should now return home to be good wives, mothers and homemakers. The government said their efforts were greatly appreciated, but that time had now ended.

The level of women working outside the home soon returned to pre-war numbers. Mary Macarthur, the women’s union leader, was disgusted. She died of cancer in 1921.

The Church

In matters ecclesiastical, the controversial pacifist Maude Royden, who became assistant preacher at the nonconformist City Temple (United Reformed Church) in 1917, was the first woman to preach from a Church of England pulpit. That event took place in 1921 at St Botolph’s Church in London.

In 1929, she started the official campaign for women’s ordination. In 1931, she was the first woman to earn a Doctor of Divinity degree. By then, she had already completed preaching tours around the world.

Conclusion

Although the suffragettes and women working in the war effort were not all saints, they were highly capable at a crucial time in history.

What the Great War demonstrated was women’s worth in the working — perhaps, especially, a man’s — world.

It would be difficult to put women back in their box afterwards.

It is also worth remembering that it also became necessary for women to earn a living. No other generation of women in recent history lost more fiancés and husbands than that one. Thousands of widows and spinsters needed to work to support themselves and their children. They had to man up.

And finally …

You can see IBT‘s collection of Getty photos (mustn’t copy!) of women — mostly British, some French — working in factories and as policewomen during the Great War. It’s a fascinating mix of posters and photographs.

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