The Importance of the First World War in Achieving Votes for Women in 1918

The Importance of the First World War in Achieving Votes for Women in 1918
The First World War had a serious effect on womens suffrage. Just as Britain was going to war against Germany in August 1914, the wspu declared peace with the Liberals. So in theory the war of the sexes was swamped by the World War. However, it has been argued that the greatest effect of the war on women?s suffrage was that women were given the vote towards the end of it. In the past, historians have generally agreed that women were awarded the vote as a symbol of thanks for their war work. As ex-prime minister Asquith says here: ?The highly skilled and dangerous work done by women during the war in the armament and munitions factories??..was probably the greatest factor in the granting of the vote to women at the end of the war." Despite this statement, nowadays historians have claimed the direct link between women?s war work and women?s suffrage to be a weak argument.
They argue that the emphasis placed on women?s economic input to the war discounts the groundwork put in by the pre-war suffrage campaign and some even believe that far from the war aiding votes for women, it actually delayed its achievement. Bearing this in mind, I shall examine the importance of the First World War in allowing women to have the right to vote. One argument is, that a reason for helping women to gain the vote was the response of Suffragettes and Suffragists in supporting the war effort. Although, this may seem to be a believable explanation, it should be noted that the response of the women?s suffrage movement was varied. This means it is important to see how the wspu and nuwss helped women gain the vote. When war was declared, the wspu suspended suffrage activities, telling its members to support the vote effort. therefore, the wspu abandoned their violent methods and began demonstrating their loyalty to their country and their right to the vote. Emelline Pankhurst even threw herself into a vicious campaign in which the defeat of Germany took priority over women?s suffrage. Pankhurst, along with her daughter, Christabel were great assets in promoting the war effort. At home they called for the men of Britain to sign up for the army, industrial conscription for women and the abolition of trade unions. juve1211, please do not redistribute this paper. We work very hard to create this website, and we trust our visitors to respect it for the good of other students. Please, do Meanwhile the nuwss was bitterly divided over the war because whilst some members supported it others did not. However, almost all of the Suffragists were active in wartime relief work and this overcame some of the divisions within the nuwss. In contrast to the wspu, the nuwss remained committed to women?s suffrage. This meant it left its organisational structure intact, giving it the chance to restart suffrage activities when the time was right. This was important, for whenever the franchise question was raised in the House of Commons, the nuwss were well written about in the press, and well thought of by the trade union and the government in support of women?s suffrage. Up to this point, it can be said that the hard work of the Suffragettes and Suffragists during the war, ended the harshness of militancy and gave a good name on the suffrage cause. This showed women involved in the suffrage movement were capable of defending democracy and having responsibility. It was also supposed that women were enfranchised because the war had changed male views about women?s role in society. For the first time women were accepted into the world of work, which later led to their acceptance in the world of politics. Women of all social classes were involved in the war effort. Many upper-class and middle class women experienced their taste of paid work during the war, entering occupations that would have been looked on as inappropriate in peacetime. In comparison, working class women had no change in their daily routine they had to work anyway, not just because there was a war on. However, the nature of their occupation did change because of the war, as they were provided with an alternative to the largely unequal job of domestic service. Women replaced men as bus drivers, window cleaners, chimney sweeps, etc.,which were all jobs men would have performed and women would not even have looked at in peacetime. Examining women?s suffrage and war from the view of parliament is not as easy as it may seen because although women were doing all these things to help their country and overall help their cause ,the final word on all matters passed through parliament had to go through the house of Lords. This was difficult as they were all men in the house and they did not want to give women the vote through principle, but although some of the members of parliament agreed with giving women the vote it was always the majority that did not. And this was partly the reason why women needed a new franchise. Firstly, there was a need for franchise reform in general. The existing franchise law required men who qualified as householders to have occupied a home for at least a year prior to an election. Consequently, large numbers of armed forces were unable to vote because they no longer held or had never had a twelve month home. Clearly this was a major problem. Therefore, in 1916, an all party conference, composed of MPs from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords and the Speaker of the House of Commons, was appointed to draft a proposal on the franchise and registration. This Speaker?s Conference, as it was known, proved useful because luckily for women, there were many supporters of women?s suffrage to assure a sympathetic hearing. However, only a limited number of women were granted the vote because it feared that they might swamp the male electorate, over eight million women were enfranchised. Secondly, fears that one party might benefit from women?s suffrage were laid to rest. The enfranchisement of some eight million women did not show an advantage to any single political party. The Liberals and the Labour Party thought that the new proposed female electorate was much too large and socially mixed to give any advantage to the Conservatives. Yet the Conservatives recognised that this time adult male suffrage was unavoidable and so had little to lose- and perhaps something to gain- by women over thirty, who were thought to be politically moderate, to be included. In conclusion, it would be naive to think that women only received the vote because of their services in the war. Only women over thirty were given the vote and they were not the ones who made the most substantial contribution towards the war. Indeed young women such as those working in the munitions factories were actually denied the vote.

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