Monday, 11 January 2016

Women's Roles in 1915

From The Wells Journal, 7th January, 1916. 


The year that has just closed has been full of significance for women, though it has perhaps seen them but a little way—and that on industrial lines—towards the feminist idea of the open door to all kinds of work.  ... It has proved, however, in a great degree a measure only of the sacrifices women were prepared to make, and not of the rewards they were prepared to ask for in the year that has passed.
 It may be that the coming year may see them called to replace men in the higher branches of the Civil Service and in administrative posts for which their education and training fits them.  But whatever the New Year holds in the way of prizes, it is safe to say that the ideal of useful service will be foremost in the minds of the majority of women.

To summarise the year's changes in women's work is difficult.  Though not in itself the first actual call, the appeal to women to volunteer for war service, issued by the Board of Trade on March 17th, was a great incentive to women to offer themselves for paid work formerly done by men.  The Government employed women largely.  They were drafted into the Censor's Department and into the Census of Production.  In the War Office, besides clerical work of every kind, they did certain remount work and the buying of hay, etc., and lately women have taken the place of men as camp cooks in camps and military convalescent hospitals.  During the past week, Scotland Yard has engaged a large number as substitutes for men from the Civil Service staff who have enlisted.  In the London post-offices women sorters and temporary postmen were a feature of the Christmas season.
In many cases the country has set the example to London.  Women tramway and omnibus conductors were tried in Glasgow and other places before London considered them.  Women have been cleaning railway carriages, acting as booking clerks and porters, working in the signal boxes, and learning the language of rolling stock in secretarial posts throughout the kingdom.  They have been cleaning ships in dock, working lifts in business houses and on the Tube railways.  To hear in a woman's voice the warning to "Stand clear of the gates" has almost lost its novelty, but the sight of a woman in uniform with a broom on the Underground has a sense of fitness that makes one wonder it was not thought of before.  The great banks have largely availed themselves of women's services, from the Bank of England to Cox's.

In agricultural work, says the Times, the substitution has gone on more slowly.  Everywhere women gardeners, women farm bailiffs, and women to milk cows and do dairy work have been asked for, and many schemes for supplying these needs have been put on foot.  But the great number of women of all classes who chose munition work, some from patriotic motives and others because it was well paid, lessened the number available for more prosaic work.  The success of the women who undertook the comparatively new trade of welding for aeroplane work deserves a word to itself, but in all the processes of aeroplane work, from the difficult mathematical problems arising out of specifications to the proofing and stitching of the sails, women have been efficient.  Mr. Lloyd George stated on December 20th that the number of munition workers was not yet large enough, and that 80,000 skilled and 300,000 unskilled would yet be needed; in the coming year it is very probable that the bulk of these will be women.  The promise that a woman assessor would be appointed to every Munitions Court at which women or girls would be heard was one of the most notable happenings of the year and was due to the exertions of Miss Mary Macarthur.

The war has led to a very large increase in the number of women medical and dental students.  But one side of the scientific work of women that has passed almost unnoticed has been the enormous amount of work done under Government direction by women in laboratories in the making of synthetic drugs and anti-toxins.  The invitation given to Dr. Garrett Anderson and to Dr. Flora Murray to take charge of a military hospital by Sir Alfred Keogh was also one of the events of the year.

There has been a small replacement of men in bakeries, women dealing with the baking of small bread.  It is, however, prophesied as not unlikely that much of the confectionery bread trade will pass into the hands of women in the coming year.  Women, too, have taken up herb-growing on a business basis to supply druggists who formerly had such things from enemy gardens.  The voluntary work done by women in every part of the country has been beyond praise.  For Queen Mary's Needlework Guild, for the British Red Cross Society and the Order of St. John, for the surgical supply depots, and the other great organizations work parties were busy all the year.

Of the nurses themselves it is almost as difficult to speak as of the Army and Navy.

[This article is evidently based on one that appeared The Times.

Dr. Louisa Garret Anderson and Dr Flora Murray had set up the Women's Hospital Corps in 1914 and founded military hospitals in France (for the French Army).  Initially the War Office wanted nothing to do with them, but had a change of heart in 1915, and offered them premises in London for a military hospital, which was staffed entirely by women.

Mary MacArthur was the founder of the National Federation of Women Workers.  Earlier in the war, she had persuaded Queen Mary that voluntary work by her Needlework Guild risked taking work from unemployed women, which led to the setting up of the Work for Women Fund.

I take it that the last sentence, about nurses, means that they have been doing such essential work, like the men of the Army and Navy, that it seems impossible to comment on it.]


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