The Effect of World War I on British Women's Rights

The Effect of World War I on British Women's Rights
In the following essay I intend to give my opinion as to whether I agree or disagree with the statement, ?Without the First World War British women would not have gained the vote in 1918?. I shall explain my opinion using the provided sources and my own knowledge on this issue. I only agree with this interpretation to a certain extent. However, World War One being the only reason for women getting the vote in 1918 is still a highly debateable and a very controversial issue. World War one was merely one of a few contributory factors to women getting the vote. The campaign for women?s suffrage had been running long before the beginning of the war. The first attempt for female suffrage was made by the Suffragists, who for over 50 years used peaceful methods, such as petitions, legal propaganda etc to gently persuade Parliament to give women the same voting rights as men. Nevertheless, they failed to achieve government backing and their campaign was so slow and frustrating that many women began to get disheartened, amounting in several supporters losing faith and turning over to more violent methods for the answer. As a result, in 1903 a breakaway group joined together to form the wspu (Women?s Social and Political Union), who were also known as the Suffragettes. The Suffragettes campaign was another contributory factor to women gaining the vote, but their approach was largely different to that of the Suffragists; they used militant tactics instead and were prepared to break the law in order to gain publicity for their cause.
The Suffragettes believed that they should be given the vote so that they are able to contribute their ideas to important issues, as a society is not only that of men, Emmeline Pankhurst; leader of the Suffragettes mentioned in one of her speeches in 1908 (Source A) that it is vital for women to vote so tat they are able to contribute their ideas in issues like social reform, which was a major issue at that time. However, it is a primary source, as it is spoken by a Suffragette and reflects their views which are therefore biased. This means it is not very reliable in telling us why the women should get the vote. Posters were produced by the Suffragettes to display the arguments for women gaining the vote like the one below; [image] This source (Source B) highlights how unfair the voting system was as the men were given the vote disregarding the facts that they were ?convicts?, ?drunkards? etc, however the women were still not granted the vote regarding the facts that they had skilful jobs such as nurses and teachers etc. It is useful in showing us how the Suffragettes campaigned, however it is produced by the suffragettes and exaggerated as it only highlights the extremes. Therefore it is not a very reliable source showing what people thought about women and the vote. The Suffragettes techniques were effective in bringing issues to the forefront of public attention and forcing the government to take notice, but their violent methods lost support for the cause and the government hardened its position, saying it could not give into violence, since that would encourage others to use it. The Conservatives were also very much against giving women the vote as it was mentioned in one of Lord Curzon?s (A Conservative leader) speech (Source C) in 1912, that women do not have the experience to vote as they have a lack of education as well as a lack of strength. However, this is not reliable as it is spoken by a conservative who were already very much against giving women the vote, but it does reflect the views of many men and some women, therefore it is very unbalanced. It is still a much argued debate as to whether, if it wasn?t for the Suffragettes militant tactics provoking the public and politicians so much, women might have received the vote, well before the beginning of World War one. Another factor was that women had been coming equal over the years. In the late 1800?s new jobs became available for women, for better educated women, the horizons broadened even further. As technology improved and businesses grew, the opportunities for women who were literate and could operate the new technology, such as typewriters and telephones, also grew. However, men still held the skilled and responsible posts. Women were given the lower status jobs which were brought by the new technology. The position of schoolteacher was seen as a respectable post for women, and opportunities in this field grew rapidly. By 1900, about 75 per cent of teachers were women. But it was not all good; again when the women married they had to resign from their post. In 1891 elementary education was made free with a fixed leaving age of eleven. This allowed girls to gain the education which had previously been exclusively for boys. Some middle-class women campaigners wanted to be able to enter these selective professions, such as law and medicine. Access to such jobs was based entirely on obtaining secondary and higher education. Emily Davies succeeded in persuading Cambridge, Durham and Oxford Universities to allow women to sit their examinations from the mid 1860s onwards, although they were not allowed to become students, or gain degrees. Some universities went on to accept a woman on equal terms with men but it was a long and difficult struggle, and was nowhere near complete even by 1900. A married woman could not make a will; her belongings would go directly to the husband. If a husband divorced his wife, she would lose the right to see her children, however young they are. Two Married Women?s Property Acts were passed. The first in 1870 gave women the right to own property and keep their earnings from work. The advances that had been made before 1900 were significant, but women were still inferior in marriage, barred from most professions and they could not even vote. The right to vote was seen as a key to many other changes, but as was shown in the 19th century every change, and advance to equality involved a great struggle. Some would argue that the First World War was a major factor. The War began in August 1914 and because of it both the Suffragists and the Suffragettes suspended their campaigns- seeing it as their patriotic duty to make themselves vital to the war effort. When the war first broke out there was no working role for women. People called upon the Government to provide opportunities for women to contribute to the war effort. In 1915 Lloyd George, the Minister for Munitions, established ?national factories? to make products for the war effort, in particular munitions. Women were encouraged to work in these factories, and by 1916 there were 520,000 women in armaments factories. Although the work was hard and conditions unpleasant, many women welcomed the opportunity to help the war effort. For women who had previously been in domestic service, the higher wages and shorter hours of the munitions factories were another reason why they were willing to do this work. In Source D we are shown the front ? cover of the ?War ? Worker? magazine, published in June 1917, which shows a man and a woman on a raised platform waving a flag. This type of source was used as propaganda during the war to show that women were helping the government in recruitment and wanted to show that both men and women contributed equally to the war. Due to the fact that this was a government produced magazine, it is not very reliable. Due to the fact that almost all the men were conscripted to the war, there was no one to take care of the vital jobs back home, therefore women were given the opportunity to undertake a wider variety of jobs such as driving delivery vans, working as bus conductresses and police constables, repairing roads, and working in mines. The Women?s Land Army was created to help ensure that farms did not go short of workers. These women were paid the same wages as men, and completed hard tasks such as weeding and haymaking. Women could also join units such as the Women?s Auxiliary Corps. Here they provided back-up for the troops, for example by becoming drivers and mechanics. Large numbers of women were employed in the factories needed to make the munitions necessary for war. Others were needed to replace the men who had joined the army. Throughout Britain, women found themselves with a chance to show what they were capable of, and how they had the strength to undertake many of the tasks which they had previously been thought too weak for. Although many people and politicians were impressed with the women?s tremendous contribution to the war effort, there were still many who remained negative about the women?s efforts during the war, this is seen in an extract from a book ?War and Society in Britain? written by Rex Pope (Source E). It tells us that male attitudes to their female co ? workers remained negative and that they were often victims of hostility and sometimes sabotage. We are told that the men felt threatened by the women?s ability to work as it meant that more males were vulnerable to conscription. This book was written in 1991, so it is a secondary source and the author had the benefit of hindsight. This book was written to inform, and not for any other purpose, therefore it is unlikely to be biased. Women had proved that they were quite capable of doing jobs that formerly had belonged to men. Many women had earned a higher wage than ever before and had independence for the first time. As a result of all their hard work, in 1918, women over 30 were given the vote. However the vote for women was a political change and it made the women feel important, but it had little effect on their day to day lives. Women still had to be householders or married to a householder. Recent arguments have shown the problems in deciding the importance of World War one and the vote for women. Constance Rover, a member of Women?s Suffrage and Party Politics in Britain said that it was because of the war that women got the vote as it emphasized the participation of women in the everyday life of the nation, which meant that women?s public image changed and improved. However Paula Bartley said that women did not receive the vote because of the war, as only women over 30 were given the vote but the women who actually helped the war effort a great deal the women who worked in the munitions factories were denied the vote, so it could not have been the war that gave women the vote, because if it was then the women who contributed to the war would have been given credit, and would have been given the vote. She also believed that women were given the vote because other countries such as New Zealand, Australia, Finland, Denmark and Norway had already given women the vote, therefore it would have been an embarrassment for Britain if they did not do the same. It is often said that ?Without the First World War British women would not have gained the vote in 1918?, however I only partially agree with it. Although the war gave women an opportunity to experience independence and to demonstrate that they were equally capable to work as men were, the situation mainly returned to what it had been before the war. As Paula Bartley mentioned if it was the war that helped the women gain the vote, then why were only certain people given this opportunity and not those who truly deserved it. I think that the reason for why women got the vote was because the government felt pressured; as other countries had given women the vote and so the English government believed that they would lag behind on what others were doing if they didn?t.

The Effect of World War I on British Women's Rights 6.9 of 10 on the basis of 1658 Review.