The Role of Women in Australia 1900-1941

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„«To describe the nature of the role, and lives, of women in Australia before, during, and after World War One „«To identify, and describe the extent of, the international influences on the role, and lives, of women in Australia before, during and after World War One

Australian women prior to World War One lived a life that consisted of traditional female roles similar to those of their British and Irish relatives. Their value in society was based on their ability to bear and raise children and maintain a home and they were dependent on the financial support of their husbands. Families of 10 or 12 children were common in this era and daily home life was described as ¡§labour intensive.¡¨ The absence of electricity and basic technology meant that the majority of chores were done by hand including laundry that was hand wrung and food that had to be prepared daily due to the inexistence of refrigeration.

Women weren¡¦t expected to assume a social or political role and men were considered the face of a family. Women were only granted the right to vote in federal elections in 1902 after the implementation of the Commonwealth Franchise Act, an achievement of the women¡¦s suffrage movement that had begun campaigning for women¡¦s political rights prior to federation. However they did not have the right to vote in all state elections until 1910 when Victoria was the last state to decide to grant women voting rights and they were again the last to vote women the right to stand for parliament in 1923. The era prior to WW1 saw no women voted into parliament in either the House of Representatives or the Senate as women were seen as inferior and too emotional to see reason in regards to political issues. Politics being dominated by white males meant that women faced harsh criticism, particularly from newspapers such as the ¡§Bulletin¡¨ where they were portrayed as unfeminine, selfish, and bad mothers when taking an active role in politics.

Women in the workforce were reasonably rare; it was seen as an activity they took part in during the years between finishing their (limited) education and getting married. There were very few employment opportunities, but the majority involved domestic-related duties including teaching, nursing and the manufacturing of clothing. Women¡¦s wages of this time were significantly lower than that of their male colleagues and were seen to be of lesser value in the workforce.

What little leisure time they had was spent at dance halls, the theatre or swimming. Fashion of the time required women to be fully covered at all times, even when swimming. Fashion was restrictive and uncomfortable, requiring women to wear corsets to create a slim waist line. Womens fashion was designed to appear feminine yet asexual, this was achieved by women wearing their hair long and by wearing floor length dresses. Women¡¦s fashion was modeled on the British example and was reflective of the influence that the motherland had on Australian¡¦s daily lives.

The greatest evidence of Britain¡¦s impact on Australia was their decision to go to war in 1914; most were ¡§motivated by a deep-felt sense of loyalty to help the mother country, a question of honour.¡¨ Twenty thousand men were immediately offered for service after Britain declared war and over the full course of the war approximately 330,000 Australians had been enlisted. This resulted in widespread changes for the women.

At the outbreak of war many women instantly offered their service to the war effort. They were willing to go ¡§in any capacity¡¨ from ambulance drivers to cooks to stretcher-bearers. However, the sexual discrimination that was so prevalent at the time meant that all offers were rejected. It was said that ¡§war was a man¡¦s business¡Kthe role of a woman was to ¡¥wait and weep.¡¦¡¨ The Defence Department would only accept the services of unmarried female nurses; rejecting the applications of female...
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