There were many reasons why attitudes towards women changed during World War One. The war was such a big deal to everyone in Britain that they stopped doing their usual work to help with the war effort. This included the Suffragettes and the Suffragists. During WWI, men were required to go to the front line. This increase in recruitment to the front line meant that there vast vacancies for women. The female members of the society took over an assortment of jobs. This included working in munitions factories and engineering workshops. All of these jobs were previously protected by qualified and skilled men and trade unions.
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This opportunity allowed women to prove themselves to men and show them that they are just as good as them. In addition to this, the women were successful in doing this as the government quickly realised that they could not ignore all the work women were doing towards providing help for the soldiers on the front line. The government also realised that they could not win the war without the help of the women. This realisation meant that they had to change their attitudes; something they eventually did. This showed that the war helped to change political attitudes as well as bridge the gap between the two sexes.
The war was responsible for many social changes. This was because, as soon as the war started, people forgot about their classes as this did not seem to matter anymore. All Victorian values were abandoned as people were more focused in helping each other and their country. Women discarded their social etiquettes as they had more important issues, like a person’s life, to worry about. The votes for women scenario was rekindled when it was obvious that men who were present at the front line could not vote. However, they still wanted a say in how their country was being run as they were risking their lives for it.
The fact that these men wanted a say meant that the ‘old-fashioned residential qualification’ had to change. This brought the issue of the women’s vote back into play. Finally, in 1917, after many discussions, the government passed a bill which stated that women could vote from the age of thirty. This temporary bill became permanent law in 1918. For the Suffragettes, this was a great compromise as to them this was a clear sign of equality for women. After the war, as well as being allowed to vote, women over thirty were also allowed to own property without any male influence.
This was a huge step for women as they were slowly creeping out of the male shadow; which they had lived under for centuries. Another accomplishment for women was the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919. In theory, this was to give women the opportunity to sit on a jury, become magistrates or enter the highest levels in civil services. This was also the year when nursing was recognised as a full profession. In addition to this, there were also acts passed in 1918, 1920 and 1921 that made women eligible for national insurance benefits if they were or had previously earned a wage and paid the national insurance tax.
After the war, there was a significant change in how women worked together; regardless of their classes. This was because pre-war women were divided into three classes which did not interrogate with each other, especially the upper class. This was a problem as the upper class women, the only women that had any significance in society, were not prepared to help the women’s fight for the vote as they were perfectly happy with their lives and did not want any changes to occur. This was something which could not be said about the women from working class families.
However, during WWI, women started working together and forgot about their social statuses. This attitude continued long after the war and can be seen to this day. Though women started cooperating during the war it was not always like this as at the beginning of the war there was a division present in the Suffragettes. Sylvia Pankhurst left her mother and sister to campaign against the war. This meant that Emeline and Christabel had now lost one of the co-founders of the Suffragettes. Emeline also said that she was ‘ashamed’ of her daughter, Sylvia, for not supporting war effort. After the war, women’s lives changed a great deal.
This is because attitudes had changed; not only in society but also in the government. This is because the earlier government, led by Herbert Asquith, did not consider women as having much importance. It was the new coalition government, under Lloyd George, that helped women gain some respect and importance in society. A prime example of this was that women were not allowed to have important jobs. This change as Lloyd George came into power in 1915. Other than this, there were also further changes seen in the government which favoured women. One of these was the first female MP. This was a good thing as now a woman’s opinion could be heard.
She was also responsible for voicing out women’s issues. This clearly showed that, as a result of the war, the society and government’s attitudes had changed. The fact that George and Pankhurst had good relations was another benefit for women as they knew that they would have more of a chance of getting better rights for women. Another significant breakthrough that occurred during the war that showed equality and compromise was when the trade unions decided that women should be paid the same amount as men for their hard work. This was an important breakthrough as this showed that all the work that the women were doing was not going unnoticed.
It was also clear from this that people knew that the jobs that women were doing were not pleasant and neither were their working environments. It is evident that the majority of the work places were rat infested, difficult to work in, dirty and physically strenuous. It was also understandable that in the majority of the jobs, women were risking their lives as many of the jobs caused diseases, mutations and even fertility disorders. This showed that women were sacrificing their lives for their country just like the men were. Though the war weakened the British Empire, it was clearly a step ahead towards equality for women.
However, it was not all good for them. Though they enjoyed a completely different life at the time of the war and valued their money and the confidence they obtained from doing these jobs, some did not like the working conditions they were faced with and wanted to get back to their daily pre-war lives as soon as they could. These women did not have to wait long as everything soon went back to normal after the war. Even though women had shown that they were capable of doing all the jobs that men could do, once the war had finished people quickly forgot about this.
By 1920, almost two thirds of those who had entered employment in the course of the war had left, or had been forced to leave their jobs. Even after the war people expected married women to rely on their husbands and that meant that men would have total control once again. This showed that attitudes towards women had not changed a great deal. Despite the fact that women could not do the same jobs that they had done during the war, the upper class women enjoyed some benefits, such as the opportunities to study at excellent universities such as Oxford and Cambridge.
This luck was not passed down to working class women as they had to return to the jobs that they did before 1914. These were mainly jobs such as domestic services. It is clear that the war helped women obtain the right to vote. However, it still did not increase their employment opportunities. This can be said because the employment rate for women in 1920 was very similar to the employment rate for women in 1910. The war also did not help change the overall social and political importance of women. This was mainly due to the male dominated society. To some people, WWI did not bring about many changes.
However, this could not be said for people like Emeline Pankhurst. To her, the war was the perfect opportunity to show everyone how useful and adaptable women were, and it also showed everyone their loyalty towards Britain. Though she supported the war, the same could not be said for all women as some women hated the jobs they had to do because it involved horrible working conditions. Even Pankhurst’s own daughter, Sylvia, was against the war. As a result she broke away from her mother and sister’s campaign. In conclusion, I think that WWI was a great help for women as far as getting the vote was concerned.
I think this because the war allowed people to see women from a different, better angle. This was because they witnessed women doing jobs that they would not normally associate with them. The war also helped women gain respect as the sudden stop in the Votes for Women campaign proved that women were not selfish and cared about their nation. WWI also helped to bridge the gap between the classes and genders. However, this seemed to go back to normal once the war was over. Though WWI did not help women with issues like employment, it still helped quite a lot as far as getting the vote was concerned.