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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Women over 30 gained the vote in 1918 mainly because of women’s contributions to the war effort. Do you agree?

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It is believed by many that the conclusion to over twenty years of women’s campaigning was down to their work during the war. I would say this is a naïve comment, taking the work women did before the war much less seriously than it warrants.


The NUWSS had previously postponed their protests, and when the WSPU realised how long this war could last they too postponed their protests. They even went on a march demanding the right to be more involved with the war effort. This campaign however, was almost immediately successful as many considered their actions to be not only patriotic but also responsible.


During the war women were given the opportunity to do jobs it would simply be unheard of for them to do before the war, jobs such as bus conductresses (clippies), shopkeepers, welders and engineers. Women did almost every job under the sun, except coal mining.


One of the most popular jobs was working in munitions factories. The 00,000 women who worked in munitions factories would be known as munitionettes or canaries (the chemicals used turned the women’s skin yellow, it also caused lung disease and skin cancer). During the war 80 women were killed in munitions explosions but, aware of the risks, women were paid £-5 a week, less than what men were paid but still more than women were used to, and by 117 the factories had produced more shells than the army could use!


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Many middle and upper class women who had never worked in their lives wanted to help the war effort. Some, with large properties opened up their homes as nursing or convalescent homes for wounded soldiers. Although many women wanted to be involved more directly and so joined the Volunteer Aid Detachments (VADs). This was unpaid work, and women were able to be nursing members, cooks, kitchen maids, laundresses, even motor drivers. 15,000 chose to be nursing assistants


Another area that required women’s labour was in agriculture, or as it was called, the Land Army. Unfortunately this was not a popular choice 60,000 women were needed in this area, of this target, only 48,000 joined up.


One of the most underrated areas was one newly set-up for women. That was, in the Auxilary Armed Forces, these were not front-line fighting groups and were noon-combatant, some of these groups included


- The Women’s Army Auxilary Corps (WAAC)


- The Women’s Naval Service (WRNS)


- The Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF)


Also, a women’s police force was set up. All of the auxiliary forces and the police force lasted throughout and even after the war ended.


With all this said, I believe some of the most prominent actions came from Edith Cavell. A British nurse based in Belgium, Cavell treated patients of any nationality that came into her hospital. When the hospital fell under German control she decided to stay rather than run to British lines. She smuggled two successfully healed British soldiers and allowed them to escape back to British lines. Unfortunately the Germans found out and Cavell was immediately shot. In my opinion these were some of the most patriotic actions seen during the entire war.


To conclude, I disagree with this statement. The work of women during the war was a huge stepping-stone towards getting them the vote but so to was the long campaign of propaganda, and also the campaign of the militants, or suffragettes. Without the extreme militancy and the war, I still believe the vote would have come, just more slowly.








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