Did The First World War Change The Lives Of London Women?

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 88 months ago
Did The First World War Change The Lives Of London Women?

All Change! at London Transport Museum

During World War One, for the first time in British history, women of all social classes took on paid work — whether it was from financial necessity or social pressures. Women filled traditionally male roles in factories, as munitions workers, and as conductors and ticket inspectors on public transport.

And it's no coincidence that the 1918 Representation Act allowed some women to vote for the first time or that various laws were passed in the 1920s to protect women's rights, which amounts to the first real legal recognition of women's contribution to society.

Would these changes have happened without the war? Beverley Cook, Curator of Social History at the Museum of London, believes that a revolution was well underway before the war began, particularly here in London.

The opening of Selfridge's in 1909 contributed largely to the feminisation of the West End. As well as the store being targeted at a predominantly female audience, its provision of services such as bathrooms and rest facilities meant that women were socially better served to spend more time outside of their homes. At the same time, the opening of tea rooms and respectable cafes across London gave women both a place to go and a place to work.

The economic independence and social confidence that this provided women, along with the increasing momentum of the Suffragette Movement, makes it clear that women's place in society was already changing before the war began. At the end of the war, when men returned, they largely took their jobs back, meaning that although many women found themselves jobless as they had been at the beginning of the war, the legal and social status of women had been challenged.

To mark International Women's Day, Beverley Cook is giving a talk at London Transport Museum about the effect World War One had on women's lives, particularly in London.

All Change! takes place at London Transport Museum on 10 March. Tickets are £10 and need booking in advance.

Last Updated 25 February 2015