In early 1918 the Representation of the People Act was passed which meant that people over the age of 30 or were over 21 householders or wives of householders were allowed to vote. This showed that woman’s effort in the war had changed attitudes but before campaigns had always failed. Yet attitudes about women had been changing slightly before hand as there were improvements in jobs, home life and education especially. Women had the chance to work as nurses, in shops, teaching and office work, although there were still restrictions in pay, hours and promotion.
Education had been improving as girls were being taught, but only the necessary skills for finding husbands, such as needlework, dancing and etiquette. Family life had been improving as acts were brought in for single women to get custody of their children, own property and keep their pay. This shows improvements and a change in attitudes. The only attitude which had not yet changed was giving women the vote. Even with the two women’s suffrage movements in the public eye, they still failed to get the vote. Although, women’s effort during the war was definitely a reason why attitudes towards them were changing.
When war broke out in 1914, men had to leave their jobs and go and fight, leaving women (the suffragettes and suffragists, who stopped their campaigns) to “fill in the gap”. This changed men’s opinions about women, and that they weren’t what they seemed. As a result it was the war effort that changed men’s opinions about giving women the vote. Women were not seen as capable to fill in the jobs, but they soon proved people wrong, as they took over jobs in factories, as bus conductors, grave diggers, and road layers.
They took over jobs in offices and replaced male clerks, worked in munitions and helped aid soldiers in France. The shortage of men didn’t seem to be a problem, as women were just as keen and had even got experience in office work. By the end of the war, half a million women had replaced male clerks. They took over jobs in industry, such as engineering but employers and unions were not happy as they did not want women to work with little knowledge of skills.
They soon got desperate for workers as there was a shortage of workers that they had to take on women in munitions factories. The Government helped to encourage others by employing most women in its munitions factories and by the end of the war, 800,000 women were working in engineering industries. This proved they were as capable as men and just as skilled. For instance in 1914, there were 18,000 women working in transport but by 1918, there were 117,000 and 40,000 working with chemicals in 1914 but by 1918, 104,000.
There were lots of jobs for women, and a majority became farm workers as they needed to produce food for home life due to the shortage. The first women’s army unit was set up in 1918 (the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) but did not involve front-line fighting, instead helped as nurses in medical centres and cooks near the front-line. There were many women from different backgrounds, and a few married women took on husband’s jobs whereas unmarried found jobs in factories.
Therefore these meant women left their jobs in domestic service, meaning middle-class women could do without servants. Servants did not need much too persuade them, as wages and conditions in factories were better. This showed that the role women played during the war to men that women were actually responsible and this changed attitudes towards giving women the vote. The women’s work during the war led to a change in attitude as they proved they were just as capable as men and therefore worthy of getting the vote, just as men did. In 1917, Ex.
Prime Minister, Asquith, commented: “How could we have carried on the war without them? “, “We see them doing work which three years ago we would have regarded as being exclusively men’s work”, “When the war is over the question will then arise about women’s labour and their function in the new order of things. I would find it impossible to withhold from women the power and right of making their voices directly heard”. This shows attitudes had changed. An article from the Observer paper in 1916 said: “Time was when I thought that men alone maintained the State.
Now I know that men alone never could have maintained it and that henceforth the modern State must be dependent on men and women alike… ” Millicent Fawcett wrote in 1916 in the ‘common cause’ magazine: “Former men opponents are now declaring themselves on our side or at any rate withdrawing their opposition”; “The view has been widely expressed that… exclusion of women from representation after the war will… be impossibility after the war. ” Former opponents of the vote for women hardly existed after the effort women had put in.
Except not all men yet felt women were as equal to men, such as Lord Birkenhead in 1928 stated: “I’m against the extension of the franchise to women”. Nevertheless most men and MP’s felt women had proved themselves just as equal. The women’s role in war was a short term cause but probably the main reason attitudes changed and in 1918 why women got the vote. However, there were long term factors which gave women a starting point in 1914. A long term factor which helped change the attitudes of women getting the vote was women’s rights, as these had been improving.
Such as, jobs in shops, offices, schools and nursing. Although there were few improvements, women were not quite as equal as men as they got paid less, could not get promotion, and then had to quit the job if they were to marry. This was seen as un-fair. In education, there were some but not many schools for girls, and with poor quality teaching. Emily Davis was successful in trying to persuade universities to let women sit exams but women could still not be students or sit exams and she opened a girl’s college in 1869 and in 1873 became the first women college.
Girls had similar education to boys, except boys studied academic subjects to prepare them for working life whereas girls had to prepare for finding a husband and so got taught etiquette, dancing, foreign languages and needlework. Improvements in family life were the acts that were passed to improve home life, such as single women’s rights, keeping pay from work, own property, and getting custody of children. These changes showed that women were capable just as men were and that they were not second class citizens.
Finally, the other long term factor which improved women getting the vote was the work of the Suffragists and Suffragettes as they kept their work moving in the public eye. These gained support and raised issues of how women felt before 1914. The Suffragettes were more peaceful and calm about the way they went with their petitions, leaflets and arguing their case with MP’s. They gained public support and most MP’s agreed also, but they were seen as too moderate. On the other hand, the Suffragists were radical and violent, for instance slashing paintings, being chained to railings and harassing Ministers.
They looked like they were untrustworthy and aggressive, as this did not help the situation. Yet they could not be ignored as they kept their issue and female suffrage in the public eye. Women’s actions during the war were probably the most important reason in bringing about the change in attitude in 1918 as they proved very much that they were as capable as men and could most definitely do the jobs men did. MP’s felt they could not ignore the issue after their effort and felt that women should have an input also.
However, they would have probably gained the vote eventually, except it would have taken longer if it wasn’t for the war. Although war was the main reason there were other reasons which changed the attitudes about women, such as before 1914 the improvements in careers, education, and family. Also the work of the Suffragists and Suffragettes helped gain women the vote. Yet if war hadn’t happened and women hadn’t shown they were just as good as men, this attitude of women would have been going on much longer and therefore in gaining the vote would have taken longer to be a success.