This is the second of two parts on women in the workforce. Read part one.
Women entered the 20th century with a world of opportunities. It was becoming increasingly common and accepted for women to work.
As the new century dawned, women continued to do many of the same professions they had before – they were teachers, servants, mill workers, shop girls and seamstresses – but new jobs also enticed women.
By the time World War One erupted, nursing was an important job. It had gone from a support role to a full-fledged profession, and women serving as war nurses were highly educated. They were graduates of nursing school in a time when the average person didn’t finish high school.
Nurses attended three-year programs that included studies in anatomy, physiology and communicable diseases.
The nations at war needed to feed their killing machines. This led to many woman taking positions at ammunition factories.
Munitions work was dirty and dangerous. Not only was there the risk of explosion, but the women were exposed to hazardous chemicals. Some 400 women in the UK alone lost their lives on the job.
In Britain, 80 percent of the shells and weapons used by the British army were made in factories that employed predominately women.
As men went off to war and losses mounted, there became a need to fill their former positions.
During the war women took positions formerly only open to men including:
- Business clerks
- Bank tellers
- Postal workers
- Civil service positions
- Field hands
- Public transportation – conductors, ticket collectors, railroad guards
Like their prewar predecessors, women earned less than men for the same work. Some women went on strike, demanding equal pay for equal work. They never received it.
After the war, the women were expected to surrender their jobs to returning veterans and resume traditional women’s roles.
During the war, women proved they were capable of doing any job. It also gave women a sense of empowerment that led to something as small as women wearing trousers and something as large as the Women’s Rights Movement.
What were the women in your family doing during World War One? Leave your comment below.
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