Women During the Second World War

1. Describe the ways in which women’s work in the home contributed to the war effort ‘You women at home are winning the war as much as your menfolk in the services,’ reads Source D from the 1941 Ministry of Food. The theme of the importance of women on the home and ‘Kitchen Front’ is continued by the 1970s school text book in Source K, “It was the ordinary housewife who was in fact decisive… if she had once revolted the whole system would have become unworkable. ” ‘Food is a weapon of war,’ states the Ministry of Food.

As the German U-boat campaign strengthened, not only valuable military equipment, ammunition and fuel were lost, but food imports were jeopardised and rationing was necessitated. Britain had to become more dependent on its own resources and it became clear that women at home had, ‘The job of using… foods to the greatest advantage. ‘ The Ministry of food advertisement, Source E, shows how women were encouraged to help in the making of, ‘A second front – the Kitchen Front – against Hitler. Here, they are encouraged to increase their use of home-grown vegetables, to try new things and experiment on cooking recipes and hints from Kitchen Front Wireless Talks (and the like), to save and re-use all bread crusts and crumbs, not to accept unfair ration hand-outs, not to buy over-priced scarce food and to serve larger portions of vegetables than usual. Although it was one of the most important, food was not the only area in which women’s work in the home contributed to the war effort.

We Will Write a Custom Essay Specifically
For You For Only $13.90/page!


order now

The ordinary housewife is said by Source K to have been able to lose, ‘The war in any week. Struggling to feed and clothe her family amid rations and coupons. ‘ Indeed, as well as a full-time war job, many women had to do as much work around the house as they did before the war. Source C, from a woman speaking in 1941, lists, ‘Cleaning,’ ‘Shopping,’ ‘Washing,’ ‘Mending,’ And getting a meal ready.

2. In what ways did the lives of women change during the war as a result of their war work outside the home? Changes were obviously great in the lives of many women. In light of the life many women were giving up, the Women’s Institute gives advice: “We are all in it together. Don’t be afraid of being alone in your sacrifice – however great it may be. All those little things that are so important in every woman’s life … we have got to fight for them. ” The ways in which women’s lives changed varied greatly. The opinions generally fall into categories of those who benefited or enjoyed war work out outside the home and those who found work hard or who were treated badly, especially on grounds of sexism.

Source B, written by a woman from the Local West Ham Council in 1941, is bias (probably propaganda encouraging women to work and/or to try harder at their jobs), but makes the statement that, ‘When the country is in a muddle… women are regarded as very important. ‘ Although one could make the point that this is included to gain more audience support, the statement is echoed by several sources about women’s war work.

Source K, the 1970s history textbook, runs along similar lines, “7,000,000 women in the armed forces, civil defence, agriculture and industry packed parachutes, typed forms, drove the tractors and milked the cows, filled the shells, waterproofed the tanks, assemble the radio sets, kept the transport running, put out the incendiary bombs, worked the trip-hammers… ” Some opinions of the working women themselves  maintain the idea, “War work certainly made many women independent for the first time… We had more freedom. ” (Mrs. Crane) “For many women the war became liberating…

It took them out from under the eyes of their neighbours and all the conventional and social pressures they had been under… It was tremendously important for them to find out… they could do all these things they had been told they couldn’t do… We were all necessary and needed. The country couldn’t get on without us,” (Tess) “We were happy working. I don’t think we ever went back to the fireside in the same way again. ” (Ivy Jones) In many cases women enjoyed the independence offered by work outside the home or the satisfaction that their job or its contribution to the war effort gave.

They sometimes found themselves more skilled than the previous male occupants or current male colleagues in their jobs had been, or rose to positions that men could not have reached at their age. However not all women shared these advantages of working. A large amount of discontent aroused from the subject of equal pay, which was fairly controversial at the time. Although women occupied the jobs previously undertaken by men and were sometimes even more committed, skilled or efficient, their pay was often lower, even when they worked side by side men at the same tasks.

However, even though women’s lives during the war were affected by unequal pay to some extent, this issue is covered in Question 3. Just because they had war work outside the home, didn’t mean in the least that women who used to have housework needed to do less. Women often found that they had to do a day’s work at, for example, a factory and then come home and perform all of the tasks that they used to spend all day doing, as was the case with the woman speaking in Source C, “I’m going home to do an evening’s cleaning… I’ve got to do my shopping…

I have to get the meal ready, and there’s always some washing and mending to do every night. ” Sometimes the nature of the work or the conditions proved the difficult factor, which is clear in Source H, where a women describes her war experiences, “I was sent to a farm in Essex… It was very hard work… Sometimes we biked eight miles or so before beginning and eight miles back at night… The people were very resentful in the country, they didn’t make it easy for you, we weren’t really welcome… WE were treated worse than the services. ” In December 1941, the government introduced conscription for women.

Amongst all other countries involved in the war, Britain was the only one to do it. All women who didn’t have a husband or children at home could be called up to work or to join the forces in a non-fighting role. In this light, some women saw their war work out of the home as an involuntary, temporary period, “When we get married I shan’t want to work. I shall want to stay at home and have children. You can’t look at anything you do during the war as what you really mean to do. It’s just filling in time until you can live your own life again. Source 71 [sheet] Much, if not most, war work was very much a temporary thing, of course. Most men returning from fighting required their jobs back, and it must be remembered how big the difference between women’s previous lives and the war might have been. The conditions of the war differed to the 1930s that preceded them. The unemployment lingering from the Great Depression meant that jobs were still in somewhat short supply just for men. This would have made the change women’s lives made to war work greater than it appears at face value.

When the war was over, it is clear how much might have changed to back to what it once was. 3. “The roles of women in the war effort have often been seen as less important than those of men. ” Why have women’s roles been seen as less important? Quite simply, there’s the fairly straightforward, yet short-sighted notion that the men were in the battle, bravely doing the fighting that the women physically, mentally, morally and ethically couldn’t do, many of them getting killed for the noble cause of their king and country.

It was them, from this view point, that actually progressed the course of the war, whereas the women, in comparison, did far less significant tasks, such preparing food and making the ammunition, weapons and vehicles that the men bravely used in battle. However, the actual truth about why women’s roles were often seen as less important than men’s may be a little more complicated There are, for a start, the basic facts. Many men were actually the ones in frequently life-threatening situations.

Even though women did face some danger and did some specific military work in the WAAF and the WRNS or bravely performed tasks as air raid wardens or members of the fire brigade throughout the Blitz, they couldn’t really compete, in terms of glamour, importance and patriotism, with the roles of even less-skilled, less-patriotic and less-brave male soldiers. Source E, advertising, ‘Medals for Housewives,’ implies this by encouraging British housewives to create the Kitchen Front.

It is likely that the Ministry of Food published this piece of propaganda to encourage the idea that women were as important as fighting men in the war and to therefore inspire them to work harder. Although this does not, in itself, suggest an attitude, it is highly possible that the source came about because of an attitude of male superiority. If women had already been under the impression that they were making a second front against the opposition, then this source probably wouldn’t have been written. The fact that it was written suggests that there was a feeling that male roles were superior.

It is fairly obvious that Britain’s war effort would have ground to a halt without, for example, the thousands of women who worked in ammunition factories, and although as much as the nation couldn’t have done without soldiers, it needed workers no less. However, the relative importance of the work that women did seems brought into the limelight only for propaganda purposes similar to the West Ham Gazette article, Source B. The point is that through its duration, World War Two, in itself, did not make women anymore important or equal to the men than they were before.

It did necessitate the conscription of many women into the factories (and it was the effects of this that one can argue was important to their long-term pursuit of equal rights). This was not people’s choice. It was necessary for victory. Pre-war society was very sexist. Men were regarded as superior to women in many, if not most, ways. Through the movement from peacetime to war, one can see, from the pre-mid-Twentieth Century dominant male view, that the fact that women had to do many men’s jobs in order to achieve victory, didn’t make them more significant.

Most men were expected to do jobs of a higher degree of importance than the those they had held before the war. One can see from this perspective that because women occupied jobs that were of greater value than before, (even if they had jobs before) that did not alter the balance of male superiority/female inferiority. It is therefore understandable that the policy of unequal pay might have be perfectly rational. This, of course, ties in with the way that the roles of women were often seen as less important than those of men.

Their possession of previously male jobs didn’t alter the way in which most women were viewed by most men. Hence, when assessed from the dominant male view point, women were less important and therefore their roles in the war were less important. This is evident from the way in which women were encouraged to return to lifestyles they had before the war. In explaining that many women would be displaced by men returning from the forces, the letter from Tate and Lyle, Source I, suggests that men who have been bravely defending the country deserved to have jobs, regardless of how successfully it had been occupied.

Underneath, this letter has a tone that implies that women should no longer be under the allusion that they are significant. It describes war work as, ‘Holding down the job during the war. ‘ Source J, the advertisement for Milk of Magnesia, also encourages the return a pre-war lifestyle, though as propaganda, it has a different approach, ‘I’m going to enjoy the simple home life that I’ve been so eagerly planning. ‘ This is plainly attempting to convince women that they will enjoy returning to the old way of life after the war.

Of course, although the work women did in the war may not have altered many people’s opinions that women’s war efforts were less important than men’s, it did suggest to many women that perhaps they weren’t as inferior and could do more than had always been taken for granted. 4. Did the war lead to permanent changes in the role of women in British society? Explain your answer. If British society had continued on as it was during the war, the role of women would have been permanently changed for certain, but the point is that it did not.

The key issue of this question is whether or not society was completely restored to what it had been before the war. The answer to this is clearly no. During both world wars, a great period of change took place that might have taken a far longer amount of time to come about otherwise, but which factors affected society must be determined. Firstly, there were the changes that took place as the war finished. As the need for vehicles, weapons and ammunition diminished and men returned to fill all necessary peacetime work, women found that there was not only no need for them to work, but pressure on them to quit. Our first duty is to find jobs for those who are returning to us from the Forces. In many cases a returning man must displace someone, man or girl, who has been holding down the job during the war. ”

Source 7 “One man told me that the way he got his job back was by an elderly man who worked there saying to one woman: ‘You know you’re married and ought not to need a job, and all the time you’re staying here the bloke who used to do your job before the war is out of work. ‘… The firm hadn’t asked her to leave. The men did. Eileen Smith, What did you do in the War, Mum “During the war, we were needed; afterwards it was different. ” Bessie Miller, What did you do in the War, Mum The government seems to have sensed reluctance to leave work, for we see evidence of propaganda, “In the next 30 years, housewives as mothers have vital work to do in ensuring adequate continuance of the British race and of British ideals in the world. ” Beverage Report, 1942 Source J shows how they attempted to convey the message through something as unrelated to work as ‘Milk of Magnesia. ‘

In this source, the propaganda is clearly evident. I’ve said good-bye to that war job, and now I’m going to enjoy the simple home life I’ve been so eagerly planning. Family health will be my first responsibility. ” The return to ordinary life, in comparison to the opportunities of work during the war, is described by Joan Welsh, [sheet], as, ‘Having your wings clipped. ‘ This is exemplified by the way in which the trade union movement in 1943 agreed that women wage earners had equal rights to employment and that a person’s sex should not determine how much they are paid for a job, and yet the government commission rejected the idea of equal pay in 1946.

The Equal Pay Act was not introduced until 1970. Women teachers and civil servants were awarded equal pay in 1955, after campaigning, and in response to a growing amount of children. However, the strongest point that suggests that the war did lead to permanent changes to the role of women in British society, is the awareness that the war seemed to create. Although Suffragists and Suffragettes had already been campaigning for over 75 years, the realisation of the imbalance in society created by the Second World War worked on a far larger scale.

The effects were nation-wide because almost all women’s lives had changed in some way because of the war. It is also fair to say that from the end of the war, there was a rise in women’s rights and opportunities until today’s society of more-or-less equality. Women teachers and civil servants won equal pay in the 50s, the invention of the contraceptive pill in the 60s solved problems of unwanted pregnancy. Renewed optimism followed and Women’s Liberation came into being.

A series of laws were made, or changed, finally ending with the Equal Pay act in 1970, the Sex Discrimination Act in 1975 and a woman Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, in 1979. More labour-saving machines were invented, education for girls was improved and the Equal Opportunities Commission was established. The Second World War, itself, did not bring any of these changes, however, it was an important factor in the realisation what women should have been able do in post-war society. It is possible that without World War Two, women’s equality would have developed more slowly on a much smaller scale.