Working Class Women in World War 1

by Sophie Howard

Before World War l, most women worked at their own home or someone else's. Men's job were often tiring and required a lot of strength. Men were thought as "breadwinners" which are the people in a family who earn money to support the rest.



Above: Before the war, most women didn't work outside the house but men did.

Piece Work

Many women were paid in piece work at home. This meant that however much they were paid depended on how much they produced. They did things like sewing, ironing, washing, and in the countryside, milking cows and helping with harvesting. Mainly single or widowed women would be employed since employers didn't let married women work for them. Some jobs outside the home for women included being a schoolteacher, a governess or a nanny. Others worked in cotton factories. Few women were nurses or doctors before the war

Working Outside Home

During the war, women started to be recruited for jobs men had worked in. These types of jobs included tram conductors, police, firefighters, postal workers and railway guards. At first, there was hesitation in allowing women to do "men's jobs" but by 1916, the need for women workers increased because of conscription, or drafting. In 1918, there were five million women in Britain working. Even though they were doing the same jobs as men, women were still paid less though the payment was better than it had been while working at home. Since more women were at work, more childcare was needed so most women looked to family and friends for help. While not working, women still took care of the home and the family inside as well as managing money.

Munition Factories

Munition factories produced materials used in war like weapons and ammunition. 80% of weapons and shells were created in munition factories by 1917. With most of the men at war, women began to work in these factories. Most work days were 12 and sometimes 13 hours long. The munition factory was a very dangerous work environment to be in. An accidental explosion could happen at anytime and the workers were exposed to dangerous chemicals. TNT was one of these chemicals and caused their skin to turn yellow, getting the workers the nickname "canaries". Around 400 women died from exposure to TNT during the war.



Below: Many women worked at munition factories which were very dangerous. Here, they're sorting artillery shells.

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Military Nurses

20,000 women from the U.S. were recruited to serve in World War l. Most of the training was basic but it meant more could help. Many worked at military hospitals and ambulance companies. Others worked overseas and faced cold weather, water shortage, long work hours and little privacy or time off. Nurses treated wounds, infections, gas burns, exposure and medical and emotional trauma. Several hundred nurses died from diseases they caught from their patients.




Below: Nurses helped treat soldiers' wounds and other injuries from the war.

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End of War, End of Work

When the war ended, most women lost their jobs to the men again or continued to work but still got paid less. The 1919 Restoration of Pre-War Practices Act made women leave their wartime jobs. Women who refused to go back to their old lifestyle were met with anger from the public and were pressured to become domestic workers again. In the U.S., women were finally allowed to vote when the 19th Amendment was added in 1920. Unfortunately, today women are still paid less than men as they were during the war

My Reaction

I think that the fact that so many women started working in jobs men were doing was a very good thing even if not everyone thought so at the time period. This showed that women were as capable as men and could carry out the same work as they did. I find it upsetting and unfair that most women had to go back to working at home because they proved that they could do more than that. I wouldn't want to work in the munition factories because I would be so worried about being exposed to all the poisonous chemicals and accidental explosions and would have to be really careful. Even though things did eventually get better for women, I don't like the fact that women are still getting paid less than men nowadays.

Works Cited

"History of the First Army Nurse Corps in World War 1 and 2." Jacksonville University School of Nursing. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

"Seattle General Strike: Where Women Worked During World War I." Seattle General Strike: Where Women Worked During World War I. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

"Striking Women." World War I: 1914-1918. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

"12 Things You Didn't Know About Women In The First World War." Imperial War Museums. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

"Women in the US Military - US Military Nurses in World War I." Women in the US Military - US Military Nurses in World War I. N.p., n.d. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.

"Women's Roles on the Home Front." BBC News. BBC, 19 Mar. 2014. Web. 15 Dec. 2015.