Women in World War I

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Women in World War I

On June 28, 1914, Archduke Francis Ferdinand of Austrian-Hungarian and his wife Sophie were assassinated. A month later World War I was declared, which changed women’s lives forever. Most of Europe became involved right away, sending soldiers to battle for their country. When the men left for the war, they left their families and the jobs they served behind. World War I was a total war because all of the nation’s resources were used. This meant everyone who could work was needed even if it was the women. Women took new roles outside of the house, but still kept their roles at home. Women had to go through many changes to become successful working women. The first world war provided many women with the opportunity to have an important role in the success of the war, impacting them and their families, and changing their lives forever. The roles of women were immediately changed by the war. Women were placed in the jobs that all the men left behind when they left for the war. This marked the beginning of a new era in the history of women. Before World War I, middle-class or bourgeois women’s jobs consisted of the role of mother, wife, and housekeeper. By remaining at home, women could be protected from the problems of the outside world. The peasant women usually worked with men in fields, coal mines, factories, and as servants in other’s homes. Society discouraged women from gaining high positions in the workforce. This all changed when men left to fight in the war, leaving jobs in the factories, schoolrooms, banks, postal service, and farms which were now filled by women. Women had to take over every job they could manage with the men gone. In France, the number of employees in metal industries rose from 17,731 in 1914 to 104,641 in July 1916. The war shell output with women working reached 100,000 per day in autumn of 1915. Between August and December 1915, daily production of field guns rose from 300 to 600. In addition, daily production of rifles in that month totaled 1,500. In France, the overall industry workforce consisted of 25 percent women. By 1917, 50 percent of the women in Great Britain held jobs outside their home. Working in factories was not new for some women, but the number of women that worked in factories rose tremendously. In fact, some women took jobs in the armed forces. These women served as ambulance drivers, paramedics, nurses, and resistance fighters. In Europe during 1918, 23,000 women served as nurses, most from the middle and upper class. Most served 12 hour shifts with less then ideal living conditions which included living in unpleasant barracks. In Russia, many women dressed as men to try to get in the army and many succeeded in combat. These women proved to be adventurous and capable in their new jobs. Although many women received jobs from the war, their working conditions were horrific. Many safety regulations were brushed aside to produce more arms for the war. Everyday women were exposed to toxic chemicals, dangerous machinery, and explosives. They worked twelve-hours days with exposure to life threatening diseases as well as high explosive power cause pernicious anemia. The women in National Shell Filling Factories in Europe were called “canaries” because of the yellow tone in their faces resulting from the TNT manufacturing process. Many unsafe manufacturing processes existed such as beater - “beater” was a process which packed TNT into shell cases and if something went wrong they could easily explode. A single accidental explosion in a Paris factory killed over one hundred women. The conditions in Germany were not only bad in the factories but the war also brought on poverty, hunger, anxiety, and exhaustion. These condition were a result of women being overworked, under paid, and worried about the men in the war. Women working impacted both the war and their families. Women’s contributions were required and vital to the war efforts. German...
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