Women, The Wounded And The War: How WWI Paved The Way For Suffrage

Today marks 100 years since some women in the UK were given the vote...

Today marks the centenary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which granted the vote to many women aged over 30.

Both suffragists, who used peaceful methods to achieve women's suffrage and suffragettes, who employed more militant tactics, contributed to women winning the right to vote.

Many went on to be jailed, including leader Emmeline Pankhurst.

As a founder member of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), Pankhurst was sentenced to repeated stretches in prison as a result of her militant activity.

However, with the outbreak of the First World War, she suspended the activities of the WSPU and focused her efforts on helping the government recruit women to aid the war effort.

Whilst this suspension of activities did create rifts in the suffrage movement, the majority of women campaigning followed Pankhurst's lead and contributed substantially in helping the Allies.

Emmeline Pankhurst

Women working hard to help the war effort did much to change perceptions of their role in British society.

They took on jobs usually carried out exclusively by men and proved they could do the work to the same standard.

Women had a vital role in caring for the sick and wounded during the Great War.

Endell Street Military Hospital in Covent Garden was opened in May 1915 by suffragists Dr Flora Murray and Dr Louisa Garrett Anderson.

The extraordinary hospital was run by an all-female staff.

In January 1915, following a change of policy, British casualties began to be evacuated back to England rather than be treated in France. 

Endell Street was different from other hospitals run by women during the First World War because the staff made no secret of their feminism.

The staff treated around 24,000 patients, carrying out more than 7,000 operations during the four years it was open, according to medical historian Jennian F Geddes

Munitionettes (a combination of 'munition' and 'suffragettes') produced the weapons and ammunition needed by the Armed Forces. 

An estimated 80% of the munitions used in World War I were created by women.

The work was hard and dangerous. One explosion in an East London factory killed 12.


However, it wasn't just in munition production that women contributed to helping win the war.

Between 1914 and 1918, an estimated two million women replaced men in work, resulting in a large increase in their overall numbers in employment, from 24% in July 1914 to 37% by November 1918.

Employers still discriminated against women, though, considering their work less valuable than men's. Their wages much lower, even in the same jobs.

While the debate over equal pay still carries on today, the issue is less prominent in the military.

The strict wage structure of the British Armed Forces, whether by design or not, means forces men and women working are paid the same for the same jobs.

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