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Did The First World War Liberate British Women?

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Introduction

History Coursework Amy Thomas Did The First World War Liberate British Women? In this assignment, I have been asked whether the First World War liberated British women. To obtain a definite answer to this question I intend to study the roles that women were viewed to have and analyse how these roles changed over time. I also need to find what impact other peoples attitudes had on the course of liberation for women, and will do so by studying a wide array of information from a selection of primary and secondary sources. I will need to study these sources carefully and in the process investigate their utility and reliability. My main areas of study for this assignment are; the movements of the Women's Social and Political Union (also know as the suffragette's) and whether they were the cause of the liberation, attitudes of women throughout history, (I.E. The typical male point of view) and the importance the war effort held as a major cause of Women's Liberation. This will aid me in answering the aforesaid question. To begin with, I will look at the women's lives prior to the First World War and how they were and how they were bound to the home. Along with the industrial revolution and the abolition of child labour in 1819, women were increasingly restricted to the home. In source A1 Ann Oakley, in her book "Housewife" suggests just that. She says that in pre-industrial Britain women's involvement in the agricultural and textiles industry was essential, as the family unit was Britain's "basic unit of production." Women were the equal counterparts of men, as they played and equal part in the survival of the family. Women worked alongside the men spinning and dyeing yarn for money, and also on the Farm, making butter and cheese. Ann writes about how women were gradually withdrawn from the work place and forced to stay at home. ...read more.

Middle

It also makes me sympathise with the suffragettes as they only resorted to such extreme methods, as the government would not listen to them. Source B12 tells us of a Lady who suffered so dreadfully through torture that she became paralysed and of two more that were alleged to have died as a result of police brutality. The violence of suffragette protests was such that they lost much of their support, and I doubt that this was what the suffragettes were aiming for. Many or their keenest sympathisers lost patience as shown by, "I hear that several men in the house who were going to support the Bill now declare that they will have nothing to do with it." This was because their methods of achieving their goals through violence was regarded as idle threats when they began, and were later acted on by the Government with force and counter violence. They meant to gain support for their cause instead they damaged it by being too heavy handed. It is difficult to determine if the Suffragette movement really did gain the vote for women. The violent actions the suffragette's made cost them a lot of support and possibly delayed their liberation. More women were arrested and attacked than ever before and for a long period of time. There was no sign whatsoever of a vote at the time, despite their suffering. It was not given to women until years later, and was only given to women over 30 because of the effort they put into the war. However for the view to be balanced I need to say that their use of violence portrays how desperate they were. Their actions could have also encouraged the release of the vote as it brought their cause to the public eye and made people aware that there was a problem and it wasn't being heard. Even though they may have brought their cause to public attention I think they did little to convince the public that there should be a change, which is shown by men publishing counter arguments in women's magazines. ...read more.

Conclusion

To begin with, the Government acted less oppressively towards them and they were encouraged to work more than ever. They had better work positions made available to them as a result of the War, work which they would never have had the chance to do if it were not for the huge amount of men that had left the country to fight. I think that women during this period relished the chance to prove to men what they were capable of and that they were perfectly capable of performing the same tasks as them. I feel that if this had not have happened then liberation would have been far more difficult as they would not have been able to gain the politicians support any other way. However you could say that it was because of the attitudes of women, namely the suffragettes that the opinions changed. The war may have gone very differently if the suffragettes hadn't made peace. The sources in section B show the actions of the suffragettes to have had a great effect on the male nation. Their persistence in keeping their arguments of suffrage in the public eye, by any means necessary, certainly helped people see what they wanted, not so much deserved. Although the way women were viewed by others certainly changed at this time, probably not in a good way. On a whole, thinking as a historian, I believe that that the First World War did not fully liberate British women. Women even up to the 1960's and 70's were not even close to becoming equal to men. I feel the events mentioned in my essay were important triggers to liberation, but they did not cause it. The Suffragettes played a crucial role in women's liberation but the biggest trigger for it was the outbreak of War and efforts of British women and their contribution to victory. The War brought opportunities that would never have been made available otherwise. These opportunities ultimately allowed women to prove themselves worthy of equal rights to the men of Britain. ...read more.

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