The Role of Women During World War One
World War 1 had a massive effect on all facets of human life and almost everyone in Europe felt some change as a consequence. One group for whom it is often described as a true turning point, largely in employment and voting, were women.
Women, like men, were divided in their reactions to war, with some championing the cause and others worried by it. The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, a spearhead for women’s right in Britain, put political activity largely on hold for the duration of the war, and the more militant WSPU did likewise after speaking with the government, although in 1915 they did demonstrate publicly, demanding that women be given a ‘right to serve’. Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, perhaps the most famous Suffragettes, turned to recruiting soldiers for the war effort, actions echoed across Europe. On the other hand, Sylvia Pankhurst remained opposed to the war and refused to help, as did other suffrage groups; in Germany, socialist thinker and later revolutionary Rosa Luxembourg was imprisoned for much of the war because of her opposition to it. In 1915 an international meeting of anti-war women met in Holland, campaigning for a negotiated peace; the press of Europe reacted with scorn. Women continued to speak out as the war progressed, being treated with suspicion and sometimes imprisoned, even in countries supposedly guaranteeing free speech. “Total war” demanded the mobilization of entire nations: the drain on the labor pool when millions of men were sent into the military created a need for new workers, a need which could be filled by women. Truly significant numbers started work, but the impact of war on women’s employment wasn’t just about doing work, for suddenly women were able to break into jobs they had previously been frozen out of, like heavy industry, munitions, and police work. This opportunity was not sustained when the war came to a close – women were frequently forced out of...
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