The Peoples Representation Act gave women over 30, that own there own home or are married to a homeowner the right to vote in general elections. It was the first time any woman has been given the right to vote in general elections, and it was most significant step towards complete women’s suffrage. Women have been campaigning for women’s right to vote for over 60 years until 1918. Before the war there was time of great militancy by the group of women’s campaigners, suffragettes, led by Emmeline Pankhurst.
When the war started, however, various women’s suffrage groups decided that there country was more important and stopped all of their campaigns in order to help the war effort. Women became central to the war effort and home front in Britain, providing the essential work force desperately needed to sustain the army and the Kingdom. In the WW1 women challenged all the misconceptions of the time about the women’s place in the society and their abilities. They did the work previously done only by men, and they did it efficiently. They showed their patriotism by helping their country in need and bringing huge contributions to the war.
It is obvious that the Britain would have lost the war if it wasn’t for the women’s efforts and their assistance. After the war society was forced to see women in the new light. Many argue that it was mostly because the war effort women did that they finally gotten the vote, as a ‘reward’ for their services. War certainly caused many women to be more confident, and they started to see themselves in new light. Women who previously concerned themselves with running a home, children, sawing and other ‘womanly arts’ were forced to work jobs previously done by men.
However, if the war was the sole reason why women were given the vote or even the main one is debatable. In this essay I will be examining what effect the WW1 had in finally gaining women the vote, and what other factors might be responsible. It was true that WW1 brought extraordinary change in how women were perceived and how they perceived themselves. Throughout World War One, females successfully challenged the notions of women’s prewar traditional roles and aided in the reinvention of post-war society. With the declaration of the war, and the mobilization of men, the country was stripped bare of its working force.
Women became farmers, police workers, nurses, conductors and factory workers. It was obvious that women wanted to help the war effort and show there patriotism when they marched on July 17, 1915, declaring that as far as war was concerned, women were all business. The women actively put pressure on the government to employ them and allow them to help their country. Many women regarded that moment as the most important of their lives, writing and speaking of its significance on there lives, and those of their daughters and granddaughters.
Women were necessary to keep the country going. They were most especially needed in the factories to work on the ammunitions for the soldiers. The ammunition need forced government to pass Munitions of War Act. This gave the government all rights on the industry, and the right to employ untrained workers. Many of these workers were women. Jobs in the factory were dangerous and over 200 women were killed. There was also great danger of TNT poisoning, and some women developed yellow skin, and earned themselves the nickname ‘canaries’.
Women played the central role in the ammunition production, with over 80% of the countries ammunition being done by women. Women’s jobs also included Women’s Land Army, women’s royal air force, mechanics, farmers, transportation and any other job vacant by the men. In those times women disapproved many of the old myths previously used to keep women in the home and away from the work. Women were proven capable of doing strenuous and physically challenging jobs. They also learned fast, totally disapproving the myth of ‘apprenticeship’, for example.
Women, were not however, universally loved and welcomed. While the media supported women workers and government used several campaigns to encourage women workers (with the help of women suffrage organizations-WSPU, NUWSS… ), many of the employers disliked women worker. Farmers sometimes refused to accept women workers, preferring boys and old men. In factories, women were often victims of practical jokes done by men. Trade Unions protested against women workers and government was forced to sign an agreement saying that women will not retain there jobs when the war was over.
While women’s wage was much higher than it was before the war, it was always smaller than that of there male counterparts. Women however, continued doing their jobs in spite of everything, showing true dedication and patriotism toward their country. It is undisputable that the war efforts of the women did a great to change the opinions of various politicians about the worthiness and capability of women voters. Women were proven responsible and hardworking, doing all the jobs men have previously done, while still managing to do their domestic jobs as well.
However, it is debatable if women would have gotten the vote if the government didn’t need to change the voting electorate already. The absence of the men from the country caused the previous household franchise to be ineffective. The men who have been at war for years now haven’t been living in there homes for over 12 months, so they were disqualified as voters. If the government kept the current system, there wouldn’t be enough voters for the general election. It was obvious that the times were changing, and U. K also had to change. The Peoples Representation Act changed the electorate by making all men over 21 able to vote.
This was the first time universal suffrage was given to the men as well. The government considered it unfair to ask a man to fight for his country and then not have anything to say in how the country is run. This is the same reason the government used to give the women the vote. It was clear that without the woman assistance the war couldn’t be won. The vote was a ‘reward’ for the women because of their patriotism and self sacrifice. It was true that women have proven themselves capable, and many of the men that were against the women’s suffrage previously now considered them worthy.
Most illustrious of the politicians that changed their mind is Herbert Asquith, who previously was staunch opponent to women’s suffrage, but who after the war acknowledged that ‘some measure of women suffrage should be given’. Nevertheless, women were not given the same rights as men. Instead, only women over 30, who were homeowners or married to a homeowner, were allowed to vote. The reason given for this is that women under that age were not mature enough to be able to have the vote. Men received universal suffrage, while through women the household franchise survived.
Government couldn’t afford to give women the same rights as men, because this would put the control of the country into female hands. The truth is, the only reason why conservatives agreed to give women the vote is that they believed that this system wouldn’t damage them. Women over 30 were supposedly more conservative, and more likely to follow their husbands lead. Also, not many working women could afford there own house, so there wouldn’t be many Labor voters. The Peoples Representation Act was an experiment, to see what women suffrage would accomplish.
The ironic thing is that the women, who contributed to the war most, working class women, still didn’t have the vote. Only those women who were deemed ‘sensible’ were given the vote, the wealthy and mature. This was meant to prevent radical movements, since younger people are more likely to be radical. The fact government needed change after the WW1 was an important reason why the women were given the vote. It was much easier to accept this right of women to vote, considering that the men have gained universal suffrage. Men were still supreme and had main political rights.
This new system was designed to see if bringing women into politics would cause a disaster. It was obvious that the government couldn’t treat the women the same as before the war. They have changed, and the society in general changed. The universal change in the electorate offered government the graceful way to pacify women and prevent the militancy of the pre-war years. Before the war, women have been campaigning for women’s suffrage with increasing militancy and violence. When the war started, women stopped their campaigning to do there duty to king and country.
However, now that the war has ended, the government was faced with the possibility of the renewal of the WSPU campaigning. For the war exhausted country, this would be a disaster. The government couldn’t afford to go to where it was before. The government was shocked by the violence of the Russian Revolution, and they feared what might happen in their own country. If WSPU started there campaigning of violence again, who knows where that violence would end. They didn’t need disruption now, while the country was recovering. Women have proven themselves patriotic, and government couldn’t treat them the same as before.
Imagine throwing a war hero nurse that risked her life to save the soldiers, into jail because she wants to have the right to vote. The campaigning done before the war had major effect into convincing the government into agreeing to give women the vote. They didn’t want the same thing happening again, especially not now what even more women had confidence in themselves after the work they did in the war. That the war effort alone wasn’t responsible is apparent in the fact that while the French women did the same jobs as there English counterparts, they didn’t gain the vote after the war.
This is because they didn’t campaigned before the war on the same scale British women did. The fear of the campaigning resuming probably prompted the government into giving women the vote. Women gained the vote in 1918 for combination of reasons; their contributions in war, their previous campaigning, political convenience and not the least the changing society in general and the new values that were forming. I believe the war speeded thing up, since it is obvious that women were going to get the vote sooner or later. The truth is that the times were changing, and the world had to change with them.