17 April 2018
Often in history, women have been constantly overlooked and undermined in their capabilities. They have always had to fight harder, stand taller, and speak louder than men have ever had to do. Especially in both World War I and World War II, women rose up and proved they were just as strong and intelligent as men were. Women’s monumental role in the world wars can be seen by their contributions at home, time spend on the battlefield, and by their impact on the increase in women’s rights today. If those brave women could only see how the success of women’s rights have continued to grow to this day, they would be extremely proud of what has become.
When World War I had first commenced, many men were forced to leave their jobs to serve as pilots, soldiers, etc. This pattern also relapsed during World War II. Countless numbers of jobs, formally reserved by men, opened up a new door of opportunities to women. Women had already been in paid employment during the year of 1914, but primarily in textile manufacture. Once World War I immersed, the need for women in all kinds of fields unfolded, and a wider range of occupations arose. Many more “hands-on” roles were taken upon to help the war effort. These jobs included railway guards, postal workers, ticket collectors, police force, firefighters, and bank tellers/clerks. Dr. Sundari Anitha and Professor Ruth Pearson wrote, “Some women also worked heavy or precision machinery in engineering, led cart horses on farms, and worked in the civil service and factories.” Additionally, the numbers of women in the work field grew rapidly all over Europe. In Britain, the presence of women in the work field resulted in roughly two million women taking over the men’s jobs (Wilde). The significant raise in numbers were found mostly in industry and engineering. As men bravely fought for their countries, women sustained the economy on the home front.
However, many of the newfound jobs were difficult for the women. Many risked their lives every day at work using dangerous machinery and equipment. Nonetheless, the women persevered, for they felt they needed to prove their abilities to the world. They proved they could handle the conditions and stress brought on by these, “masculine” jobs. Furthermore, the high demand for weapons in the war opened up munition plants all around the world. They opened to women who were eager to escape domestic drudgery, praying for better wages, and in the hopes for a shift in the status of women. As a result, the title “munitionettes” became the common term for women, and over 700,000 women by the end of the war proudly call themselves a one of these (Pearson Sundari). The conditions in the munitionaries were described as “Gates of huge, noisy and dangerous munition plants” (Adie), and the presence of TNT (a highly explosive agent), caused skin to become a yellow color. Despite all of these hazardous conditions, the need for proper protective clothing and safety measures were not provided (Pearson, Sundari). Once again, this put the lives of women at risk every day. Therefore, women worked long hours in these hazardous conditions proving their important role in the war at home.
Women also contributed their strength on the battlefield. They helped keep the soldiers organized and safe (Duffy). The Red Cross emerged into a huge station in the naval and military services to treat the sick and wounded sailors and soldiers. The Red Cross organization stated, “Nursing activities included decreasing patient activity, giving oxygen by face mask, keeping the environment free of dust and smoke, providing liquid diets, preserving body warmth, and helping with oral hygiene for this with lung irritants” (Adamson). These actions were all acted upon on the battlefield. Nurses were primarily women, so they put themselves on the line of war to treat wounded men. Most of the victims in World War I were exposed to toxic gases. With this being a leading cause to death, The Red Cross created a special unit consisting of gas specialty teams. These teams (women) traveled to the front lines giving supportive care. They had many resources to help the victims rest easier including oxygen, morphine, and stimulants (Duffy).
Inside The Red Cross Organization was a specific group called VAD’s (voluntary aid detachments) (Adamson). Most of these VAD’s were primarily women who trained with The Red Cross, but were dispatched throughout the United Kingdom and Europe. All VAD members underwent a specific training in order to receive the title of a “VAD.” They went through extensive training in first aid, nursing, cookery, sanitation, and hygiene. Once these skills were mastered, they were dispatched onto the front lines of the war, throwing themselves into extremely dangerous conditions.
Auxiliary hospitals also claimed much of the victims. Once again, the nurses were primarily women. These hospitals became immediate homes for wounded and service members. All over the country, they were growing nonstop. These hospitals were a place for immediate urgent care. The popularity and their importance continued, so many people offered their property to be used for this cause. There were auxiliary hospitals being set in elementary schools, town halls, and even private properties (Adamson). This also helped women create a uniform for themselves. They developed, “uniforms allowing women to look the part and claim credibility for their services, as well as to be taken seriously by others” (Hacker). This was huge for women. They were finally given the credit they deserved in a field dominated by their own.
Some men would say that with women in the war, it had set them back once they returned (Pearson). After World War I was over and the men returned home to their everyday, working lives, they felt pressure (the same goes for after World War II was over). Since women had been dominating the work field and taken over what men had left behind, they felt they had “big shoes to fill” (Pearson). They ran a smooth operation running industries, factories, etc… Those men felt they needed to perform too much to earn their spots back in society (Pearson). The transition for men coming back from the war was already hard enough on them, so to see that they had to keep up that stellar work stressed them (Wilde). Also, let alone just coming back to their jobs to see that a woman had taken over and fulfilled their jobs skillfully, frightened them (Bourke). This caused a lot of stress for some men, which was unneeded after such a devastating time witnessing war. In the eyes of men, they believed women had overall set them back in society. However, what they did not fully realize was that without the women who had taken over their jobs in their time of absence, they would have come back to much more taxing tasks.
All of these efforts and achievements have immensely contributed to women’s rights today. World War I and World War II gave the chance for women to be heard, respected, and overall earn the success they deserved. Their success was shown in their higher incomes and wages. Although, for married women it was much harder to earn this success. The “Marriage Bar” made it very hard for married women to find jobs (Bourke). This bar restricted employment for married women in many jobs and occupations. Sometimes, it would force termination on the marriage itself, forcing an end to the love of a women and her husband. However, throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s, it became much more common for married women to be working. In many cases, it was part-times work, but they worked for wages. By the 1960’s, 38% of married women were working (Pearson). This great improvement in numbers was the result in the fight to enhance women’s rights, equality, and independence. Even in the Civil Service, numbers greatly increased. The total number of women enrolled in the Civil Service in 1911 was 33,000, and by 1921 it was at 102,000 (Wilde). These years were amazing for women, helping them gain their well-deserved independence. Meanwhile, over in France, women were initiating strikes (Wilde). These strikes were to improve the low wages in the hopes of raising attention to the issue. Industries were opened to the idea of greater female employment. In the end, both World Wars proved to men that women were capable of a much wider range of work than previously believed.
Throughout all worldwide history, women have constantly been overlooked and frowned upon when it comes to their capabilities in society. They have always been looked at as, “below” and unequal to men (Pearson). However, in World War I and World War II, women prospered and proved themselves as equals in society. Women were a major part in both world wars due to their work on the battlefield, on the home front, and to their accomplishments towards women’s rights. Thousands of brave women dedicated their time and lives to help in the war effort when it came down to life or death, and difficult situations. Women of all races and ethnicities, from all over the world, have come a long way since World War I, constantly proving themselves to society.