Saturday, 2 May 2015

What Women Can Do

From the Halifax Courier, May 1st, 1915. 



“Women’s part in the war” was the subject of an interesting address given by Lady Fisher-Smith on Thursday, at the Imperial Café, under the auspices of the Halifax Women’s Liberal Association.  There was a large attendance.

Mrs. J. H. Whitley, who presided, remarked that they were not at liberty, any single one of them, to just now stand aloof.  Non-combatants as well as soldiers, women and girls as well as men, had each one to take their part.

Lady Fisher-Smith, who handled her subject most ably, said that women must help at this great crisis.  They must help every man to serve his country in the fighting forces, wherever it was possible, and they must do their utmost to relieve men for the work of providing munitions of war.  In many spheres of agricultural work, and in dairy work, women could, after a little training, carry out the work equally as well as men.  Courses of instruction could be obtained at Garforth, near Leeds, under the auspices of Leeds University, and other centres.  She had it, however, from a woman who understood farming that the best training was to obtain experience on an actual farm.  Owing to the many farm labourers who had enlisted, farmers were going to experience very great difficulties in getting their work done, and there would be great opportunities for women to take up farm positions.
Another avenue for women's energies was poultry farming.  That would prove an agreeable occupation, and it could be made a profitable one, the demand for fowls and eggs was so great.

Women, again, could act as tram conductors.  They would, she was sure, do better than inexperienced boys, for they had discretion as well as the ability to perform the work.  For young women who had been governesses, or in similar occupations, the railway services afforded similar openings where they could relieve men for other pressing work.  In the civil service, in the museums and libraries, and as shop assistants, they could be utilised to advantage.  With regard to shop assistants, she felt strongly that, unless a man was somehow related to the proprietor, every male assistant ought to be released for war service and his place taken by a lady, because a woman could sell goods equally as well as a man.

What was wanted was, not to enlist in service women already in employment, but to get hold of entirely new women to release men, either to join the colours, or to assist in the manufacture of munitions of war.  They claimed the equal wage with men as a right, and associated with the demand was the consideration that, if the same wages were paid, there would be no temptation on the part of the employer to retain the women for cheapness afterwards, instead of reinstating the men.

Mrs. Whitley observed that; whilst Lady Fisher-Smith was making suggestions of spheres in which women could help, she noticed that many smiled.  Certainly it would be amusing to see Lady Fisher-Smith hoeing turnips, and Mrs Ccr. Seed milking a cow.  If, however, they took the matter seriously, they would remember that, in the Allied countries, there was scarcely a man of the military age, except such as were incapacitated, who was not fighting for his country, or making munitions.

Sir Geo. Fisher-Smith, called upon for a few remarks, suggested women barbers as another calling.  A woman, he was sure, could cut his hair as well a man.  This movement to bring in women in these various occupations was not with the idea of doing men out of employment, but simply as an emergency.  His opinion was, and always had been, that the first duty of a woman was to look after some man, make him comfortable, and run his home in a proper way.  None of them wanted to take women away from their proper duty in life.  In a grave emergency, however, they could do good service in relieving men, and allowing them to be put to harder work, or to join the King’s army.

On the proposition of Lady Fisher-Smith, seconded by Mrs Whitley, a resolution was adopted expressing high appreciation of the King's and Lord Kitchener's examples in excluding intoxicants from their households, and commending it to all members of the Association.

[I think that people were beginning to realise by this time that the war was going to have a much greater effect on the country as a whole than the wars of the previous century.  But many of the women who were not "already in employment" and would be willing to do manual work were those who had lost their jobs as a result of the war - they were willing to take a job on offer, I'm sure, but the difficulty was often persuading employers to take them on. 

Lady Fisher-Smith was evidently a competent and thoughtful woman.  I hope that Sir George was joking in suggesting that her first duty was to look after him, make him comfortable and run his home, but I fear not.]    

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