What did World War One really do for Women: a feminist perspective

How did WW1 most change life for women?

The last hundred years has seen a transformation in women’s lives. How much of this change dates back to the four years of World War One – and what was the biggest change in women’s lives as a result of the conflict?

WW1 historian, Prof. Margaret MacMillan

The war changed women’s lives, and in some ways for the better. They showed society that they were able to do men’s jobs and were intellectually more than capable of taking part in society. However, those gains could not be completely consolidated after the war was over; many women were forced from their jobs once the men returned and expected to go back into domestic life. Many women had earned the right to vote, but such things as going to university or standing as MPs were still overwhelmingly the preserve of men.

War historian, Dr. Jonathan Boff

One of the biggest improvements in the lives of women during the First World War was in the area of health. Women lived longer and healthier lives after the war and lost fewer children in infancy. During and after the war infant mortality was reduced by two thirds. The explanations are complex, but better living standards and nutrition are a large part of the answer. Smaller households and earnings rising faster than food prices meant there was more food to go around. Housewives shopped more carefully. And government policy, such as rationing and restrictions on pubs, may also have helped.

Suffragette expert, Elizabeth Crawford

At the end of World War One, women’s lives were revolutionised by the 1918 Representation of the People Act. While men were granted the vote at 21, the suffragists pragmatically settled for a lesser measure for women, knowing that, as voters, they could exercise direct influence on parliament.

WW1 historian, Dr. Krisztina Robert

At first glance progress [after the war] seems limited. Nevertheless, women’s extensive war participation helped convince politicians and the public about their suitability for citizenship, leading to full enfranchisement in 1928. Furthermore, many women developed new skills, self-confidence and contacts in their war jobs and were able to capitalise on these gains after the war in terms of greater freedoms both at work and in personal relationships.


So what do you think? Do you agree with these experts?

I am finding the history of the Feminist movement quite fascinating at the moment and so I have decided what topics I shall be writing about in the next months – see my list  below – as well as my occasional other blogs about all the other stuff I have been up to.. I shall be very busy now that I have a second blog operating on WordPress too – all about our Pop-Up university – see link.

List of Feminist things to cover:

  • French Feminism
  • Emily Pankhurst (and WW1)
  • Enfranchisement
  • Education for Women
  • The feminist impact on: Prison Reform; Social Reform
  • Gertrude Jekyll and Housing

This list will be added to as each item is covered.. so keep a look out for what is coming next.


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