Chapter 8: Women and the First World War
Sarah Palmer I Among the enduring social changes commonly assumed to have been hastened by the First World War, the emancipation of women is usually at the forefront. Whether emancipation is thought of in terms of gaining political rights, as with the granting of the vote to women which occurred in a number of countries shortly after the coming of peace, or in the sense of women’s status more generally, the claim is, ﬁrst, that there was improvement and, second, that such improvement was a direct consequence of the war itself. In particular, the wartime movement of women into types of work formerly undertaken only by men is seen as a prime instigator of change, challenging traditional attitudes and opening the way for future progress. An accurate assessment of the short-term and longer-term impact of the First World War on women requires a more sceptical approach to the issue of emancipation than might be suggested by this conventionally accepted account. It also needs a broader interpretation of the area of interest than one focused primarily on employment, or indeed on a search for signs of discontinuity, for indications of a break with the past. From an international perspective account must obviously be taken of national differences in the degree to which the claims of women to equality had been recognized before the war, but it is equally important even when dealing with the experience of one nation to recognize the variety of individual female experience masked by every generalization. The...
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