Kate Adie examines the impact of women's work on the home front during WWI. This is a version of the BBC Two programme made especially for a secondary school audience.
Browse content similar to The Women of World War One. Check below for episodes and series from the same categories and more!
To be a woman in 1914 in Britain,
your life was defined more by what you couldn't do than what you could.
You couldn't read the lesson, you couldn't preach in church,
certainly not in the pulpit.
Indeed, you couldn't hand out the hymnbooks, take the collection,
or even ring the bells.
Away from church, if you spoke about women's rights in public,
you were likely to be jeered, or have stones thrown at you
not for what you said,
but for having the temerity to speak in public.
If you were arrested, it would be by a man -
all police officers were male.
Into court, the lawyers, the jury, the judge, all were men.
It remained very much a man's world.
For over a decade, women's suffrage campaigners
had battled to overturn this man's world.
They argued nothing could change in women's lives
until they were given the right to vote in parliamentary elections.
Women engaged in campaigns of protest and violence.
They endured imprisonment and hunger strikes
to force the men in government to back down.
Nothing, it seemed, would stop the suffragettes
until women had the vote.
But then, Germany invaded Belgium.
When war was declared in August 1914,
the suffrage campaigners were faced with a quandary.
Should they support the men in government, their sworn enemy,
and suspend their campaign for the vote?
Something which a few months earlier would've seemed unthinkable.
The Militant Suffragette Organisation
was the women's social and political union
led by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughter Cristabel.
Its motto - "Deeds not Words."
They saw violent action as a necessity
and they resorted to bombings and arson to get their case heard.
Many spent time in prison
and were subjected to brutal treatment and force feeding
in response to their angry demands for a vote.
Then the declaration of war intervened.
Emmeline Pankhurst wasted no time coming to a decision.
Within days of war being declared,
she suspended their campaign of militancy with immediate effect.
The suffrage campaigners showed their new patriotic commitment
by renaming their newspaper -
The Suffragette became Britannia and it bore a new motto.
Instead of "Deeds not Words," it was now -
"For King, For Country, For Freedom."
"What is the point of fighting for the vote," asked Mrs Pankhurst,
"if we have not got a country to vote in?"
She was a pragmatist.
Her message to her supporters was clear -
it was time to transfer their energies to the national cause.
In December 1914, war came to the Home Front.
German warships attacked the north-east coast of England,
targeting Hartlepool and the fashionable resort of Scarborough.
Scores of civilians were killed, including women and children.
With women now victims of enemy action,
like the soldiers in France,
the rallying cry became "Remember Scarborough!,"
as scores of upper and middle-class women
rushed to don uniform in the voluntary organisations.
or them, it was an unrivalled opportunity
to get out of the house, to do something useful,
to gain independence.
First into action on the Home Front was the aristocracy -
society ladies, used to using their social clout.
Their young girls joined the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry.
Formed before the war, and still going today,
it now came into its own,
sending women as ambulance drivers to France.
Hundreds of other volunteer organisations sprang up,
such as the Women's Volunteer Reserve, ready to do their bit,
adopting military-style uniforms to command attention and respect.
Some did skilled training in the Lady Instructors Signals Company.
Most, though, were cooking, cleaning and running errands.
Keeping a watchful eye
was their Honorary Colonel, Evelina Haverfield.
Evelina, the daughter of a baron,
was a determined suffragette veteran -
in 1910, she was arrested for punching a policeman in the face.
When charged, she replied, "It was not hard enough.
"Next time I will bring a revolver".
Women like her were full of ideas, ready for action.
The Women's Volunteer Reserve remained resolutely middle-class,
largely because they had to buy their own uniform,
which cost more than £2 - a small fortune in 1914.
Even though there was no suggestion that a woman would ever fight,
the image of a woman in military-style uniform
was troubling for many.
Yet the Women's Volunteer Reserve relished the authority it gave them,
despite the catcalls and jeers.
It was distinctive, purposeful
and very publicly part of the war effort.
Squad, stand at ease.
The war brought working class women to the public attention
in paid, often industrial work,
that men had left for the front line in France.
# There came John Bull with his ship so grey
# And his army fighting far away
# All the boys have gone
# So the girls today
# Carry on with the work in the morning
# The conductorettes without much fuss
# Just do their level best for us
# But they don't push people off the bus
# When it's raining hard in the morning. #
Over one million were engaged in war work across Britain.
# The girls have shown surprising gifts
# On the railways now they work the lifts
# If they'd only do the work in shifts
# They would get such a crowd in the morning. #
Beautifully illustrated cigarette cards
celebrated the variety of their work.
They were doing what had previously been considered solely men's work.
Getting paid the same as men was out of the question.
Skilled men feared that their prized status
would be threatened by unskilled women working alongside them
doing the same job and being paid less.
Entrenched attitudes and prejudice were at play.
Men were expected to be the breadwinners, supporting a family.
Women were thought to have more modest running costs.
"Tea and toast are cheaper than beer and beefsteaks,"
said one factory foreman.
A strong conviction remained that people should be paid
not for what they did, but for who they were.
During the First World War,
many women worked on factory production lines
assembling planes, tanks and making ammunition for the war effort.
Crowded together in factories,
they discovered a new sense of team spirit
and it worked as well on the football pitch
as it did on the shop floor.
Women's football was a novelty, rather shocking.
Teams from the shipyards, engineering works and munitions
donned mobcaps and shorts to general amazement.
Even more than today, many thought, "Women? Playing football?"
Many men were keen to point out why the women should not play.
The British Medical Journal was worried about the danger to women's
"organs which the common experience of women
"had in every way led them to protect."
But in 1915, the men's professional game was suspended -
the trenches had taken both players and officials
and the women's game flowered.
Most of the women's games
were to raise funds for soldiers and their families,
a Christmas Day Match in 1917, watched by a crowd of 10,000,
raised £600 for wounded soldiers -
the equivalent of more than £25,000 today.
One occasion, the women played men
who had their hands tied behind their backs as a handicap.
The keeper was allowed one hand free.
But usually, the women's teams played each other,
sometimes with bruising intensity.
The most successful team in the north-east of England was
Blyth Spartans Munitions Girls.
In their first game,
17-year-old centre-forward Bella Reay scored six goals.
Bella was the daughter of a local pitman.
She quickly became the star of the team,
scoring 133 goals in one season.
And Blyth Spartans Munitions Girls remained unbeaten
for the two years they were together.
She worked in the munitions factory, you know, when she was 17.
And they decided then that they wanted to do something
more for the war effort.
All of the games that they ever did were all for the wounded soldiers -
all the money they ever made, it was all done for charity.
Did lots of people come to see them?
Yes, she played anywhere from crowds of 1,000 up to 20,000 people.
When your grandmother talked to you about football, what did she say?
Just how good she was. That was the main thing, you know.
She said, "I was good, but I knew I was good."
We will never forget her saying that to us, "Oh, I knew I was good."
She played in the Munition Girls Cup Final, didn't she?
-Yes, she did, yes.
-That must have been a big match.
Yes, it was. That was when she got her gold medal.
Which, would you like to have a look at the medal she got?
Beautiful medal, it is.
How did she do in the final?
Very well. I think she was the best goal scorer in the final.
People are surprised now to hear
that girls played football at that time.
What do you think of that?
Well when because when they go on about it,
I say, "Well, my grandma played nearly 100 years ago,"
and we're very, very proud that we are part of history, really,
you know because she was very, very well-known in her time.
Everybody knew her -
"Whoa, Bella", that was what they used to shout, "Away, Bella!"
You know that that's the thing, and it's lovely really to think
that we are part of a little bit of history.
By 1921 the Football Association had had enough
and it banned the women from playing on their grounds,
saying, "The game of football is quite unsuitable for females
"and ought not to be encouraged."
Women's football, like so much else,
was only tolerable for the duration of the war.
During the First World War,
many working class women had their first taste of social freedom.
Instead of being at home under father's watchful eye,
they discovered the forerunner of girl's night out.
The press went into overdrive, with stories of
"giddy factory girls" frittering money in pubs with men.
The Aberdeen Journal reported that they had
"more money in their hands than usual, and there were only too many
"ready to help them to spend it in the wrong way."
The munitionettes were experiencing a liberation they hadn't expected.
They were aping their betters -
out and about, with a little money to spend.
Traditionalists were outraged.
Not for the first time in the war, there was a bout of moral panic.
Women were getting out of control.
More worldy-wise women, such as Margaret Damer Dawson,
set out to protect women, as well as cautioning their behaviour.
Dawson approached the Commissioner of Police in London for permission
to create a voluntary body of trained and uniformed police women.
He declared himself "not at all averse to the idea,"
as long as they remained separate from his force.
The result was the foundation
of Britain's first Women's Police Service, the WPS.
Margaret Damer Dawson was a tough character.
Her friends called her "Fighting Dawson."
Her first recruits were mainly educated middle-class women,
trained in first aid and a little jujitsu.
But they faced a battle to be taken seriously by the men.
One male police officer,
when asked if women would ever be police constables,
laughed and said "No, not if the war lasts 50 years".
The WPS were not granted the power of arrest
and were expected to deal solely with women and children.
Most male constables thought that Dawson's "Copperettes,"
as the Sussex Times called them, should be deployed only
to protect Britain's men from the temptations of women.
Dawson's patrols were not popular with the women they policed.
One 14-year-old girl said she'd been told off for crimping her hair,
and "dressing up and walking about
"in order to attract the attention of men."
Many men disliked having to deal with women,
especially in the factories,
where huge numbers now worked making munitions.
Many of the women were rowdy and tough.
When disputes arose,
managers, more used to obedient wives and daughters,
had no idea what to do.
The Prime Minister, David Lloyd George,
turned to Margaret Damer Dawson's women police.
He deployed nearly 1,000 of them
to keep order in the munitions factories.
Policewoman Gabrielle West kept a diary describing her experiences.
Her initial impressions of the workers
at the Pembrey Munitions Factory in South Wales were not favourable.
"They are full of socialistic theory
"and very great on getting up strikes.
"But they are easily influenced by a little oratory,
"and go back to work like lambs when you shout at them long enough."
Rather than being a social leveller, as it's often portrayed,
life in the munitions factories
relied on the class system to maintain law and order.
Within weeks of the war ending,
the Metropolitan Police announced plans to train women
to become paid constables for the first time.
What followed was humiliation for Margaret Damer Dawson.
Her well-trained and capable volunteers
were rejected as candidates -
resented by male constables as too well educated and confident.
As a final blow, Dawson was ordered to wind down the WPS.
Margaret Damer Dawson died in 1920, aged 45
of a heart attack, it was said, brought on by the hostility
she faced from the male police establishment.
She'd tried so hard to gain acceptance.
Just before she died,
she got to the heart of the problem of policing women.
"In the realm of morals,"
she said, "we have not advanced beyond Adam and Eve."
Machine guns and artillery in the First World War
caused terrible injuries.
Wounded men were coming home in overwhelming numbers
in urgent need of medical attention.
Britain's small band of professional nurses were joined by
nursing assistants from the Voluntary Aid Detachment - the VADs.
Across the country, public buildings and private residences were
offered up or commandeered for use as auxiliary hospitals.
In 1917, Lady Stamford offered Dunham Massey to the Red Cross.
Her daughter, Lady Jane Grey, worked here as a VAD.
It could be grisly work,
with the operating table tucked in next to the grand staircase.
Lady Jane remembered helping remove a bullet from a soldier's brain.
"I was given the job of shining a torch into the hole
"once they'd made the hole in the brain,
"and so I held the torch in front
"and saw the bullet being extracted by the surgeon.
"It was very interesting."
By 1918, more than 70,000 VADs
had played a crucial part in the war effort.
In a man's world, they were the perfect women -
volunteers, not wanting equal pay and not demanding a new kind of job.
Theirs was the traditional caring role -
they were non-threatening - plucky, but lovable.
Women doctors, on the other hand,
evoked a very different kind of response.
Before the war,
qualified female doctors treated only women and children.
But the war gave two pioneering women the chance to change that -
Flora Murray, and Louisa Garrett Anderson,
the daughter of the first woman to qualify as a doctor in Britain.
Together, they now founded the Women's Hospital Corps.
After watching them successfully run hospitals in France,
the British War Office gritted its teeth
and offered them a large military hospital with over 500 beds
in Endell Street, London.
They accepted immediately, and revealed their growing confidence
by insisting it must be entirely staffed by women.
New staff were told that skill levels acceptable from a man
would not be accepted from a woman.
They had to do better.
They laid special emphasis on getting the men recovered psychologically
from the traumas they'd seen.
And every effort was made
to make the atmosphere of these rather grim buildings congenial.
The courtyard had flowers regularly tended by the gardeners,
the wards had fresh flowers in them,
changed regularly by a team of volunteers.
There were sports days, there were demonstrations by champion boxers.
It was a very varied programme of entertainment.
The hospital did have the word suffragette attached to it?
Yes, it did, because Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson
had been very prominent in Mrs Pankhurst's organisation.
Flora Murray was actually Mrs Pankhurst's personal physician
and Anderson had spent time in Holloway,
having thrown a brick through a window.
So they were well-known and many, many of their staff
were also supporters of the suffrage movement.
But these women had shown themselves capable of running a hospital,
a large military hospital,
they'd shown themselves to be capable of treating
really very serious medical and surgical problems,
and of successfully treating male patients,
and this was something that had not been proved before.
And what is more,
they had shown that it would happen without civilisation collapsing.
More than 26,000 men were treated at Endell Street Military Hospital.
Many needed major surgery.
In 1917, in recognition of their pioneering work,
both Flora Murray and Louisa Garrett Anderson were awarded CBEs.
The legacy of Endell Street
is that men could be treated by women doctors.
Only one patient ever said he wouldn't be treated by a female.
And after a few days, he changed his mind,
and asked his mother if he'd be allowed to stay a little longer.
"The whole hospital is a triumph for women,"
wrote another patient home.
"Incidentally, it is a triumph for suffragettes."
As the First World War neared its end,
women were involved in almost every area of life on the Home Front.
But Britain's women were still denied the right to vote -
the very issue that sat at the heart of the suffragettes' campaigning.
Deep within the all-male Parliament,
there existed a place which
epitomised the status of women in public life -
the Ladies' Gallery.
The original Ladies' Gallery
was destroyed by bombing in the Second World War,
but today's press gallery occupies a similar position.
It was a cramped space, hot and stuffy.
And there was a metal lattice grille which obstructed the view
of the House of Commons below.
Though it was originally installed
so that the men below would not be distracted by the ladies above.
The suffragettes regarded it as a symbolic cage
which separated them from the business of politics.
In 1908, suffrage campaigners padlocked themselves to the
gallery's grille in protest at their exclusion from Parliament.
The grille was removed with the women still attached.
After their release, it was immediately reinstalled
and there it remained, physically and symbolically excluding women
from the world of politics.
Before the war, Winston Churchill argued that
"women are well represented by their fathers, brothers and husbands."
But many of those men were overseas now
and potentially ineligible to vote.
The Government contemplated changing the law on voting qualifications.
And the suffrage campaigners scented a chance
to press their case to include women.
The new Prime Minister was David Lloyd George.
He offered a more sympathetic ear to the campaigners -
no-one knew better what invaluable work they'd done in the factories.
Emmeline Pankhurst was pragmatic.
She urged him to speed the legislation and said,
"Whatever can be passed in war circumstances,
"we are ready to accept."
On the 19th of June 1917,
the Ladies' Gallery was packed with women
eager to hear the Commons debating a new bill -
The Representation of the People.
Even the most optimistic couldn't have predicted
the outcome of the vote.
385 in favour.
The tide had finally turned.
The Representation of the People Act became law in 1918.
It granted the vote to women over 30 who were householders
or the wives of householders, or graduates.
The First World War had delivered a partial victory for Britain's women.
There's no escaping the fact that MPs saw
the vote for women as a prize rather than as a right.
As one woman put it,
"rather like a biscuit given to a performing dog
"that has just done its tricks particularly well".
The majority of the women who worked in the factories
were under 30 and not householders, so they remained without a vote.
One reminder of that tumultuous time is hidden away
in the basement of the Houses of Parliament.
A few weeks after the vote, the notorious grille
which had caged in women in the Ladies' Gallery was quietly removed.
Here's a section of it -
a symbol of the struggle by women to achieve their rights.
Fighting officially ended across Western Europe
on 11th of November 1918.
For many women war workers, the celebrations were short-lived.
The government encouraged them to return to their traditional roles
as mothers and wives, relinquishing the independence tolerated
during the war.
A Ministry of Labour leaflet made clear the Government's position.
"A call comes again to the women of Britain,
"a call happily not to make shells
"but to help renew the homes of England, to sew and to mend,
"to cook and to clean
"and to rear babies in health and happiness."
But now women from all backgrounds had experienced
a taste of public life and held their own in the workplace.
Their own lives had become entwined with national events.
Having proved what they could do for the duration of the war,
they emerged to press the case that they always should do it
and continue the struggle for fairness and equality.
Distinguished war reporter Kate Adie examines the impact of women's work on the home front during the First World War.
Innovations included the first women's police force, women's football and female surgeons operating on men. Adie argues that what truly mattered though was whether these changes in women's lives were long-lasting or viewed as 'only for the duration'.
This is a compilation of short films made especially for a secondary school audience from the BBC Two programme.