Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932


Leaflet entitled 'Weekend munitions work for educated women', 1915

image from Red Clydeside collection

The nature of women's work during the First World War represented a challenge to the established norms and was instrumental in bringing about change from the Victorian stereotype of the acquiescent and subservient 'ideal woman'. Although this stereotype was already being challenged by the Suffragettes and a small band of politically aware women, it would be the legions of ordinary women who took up positions within the factories and shipyards who would do the most to help overcome resistance to change as regards the changing role of women in society.

After the introduction of conscription, in March 1916, the government encouraged women to take the place of male employees who had been released from their normal occupations to serve at the front. The munitions works were deemed a vital sector of Britain's war-time industry and whereas in July 1914, 212,000 women worked in engineering and munitions, by 1918 the total was nearly a million.

Munitions production was dangerous, TNT poisoning was a hazard and the threat from explosives detonating during the manufacture of shells was a very real one, over 200 female munitions workers were killed in accidental explosions during the First World War. Shifts were long and the nature of the work meant that female workers were on their feet throughout their shifts, which could last between 8 to 12 hours. However, compared to other industrial war work, it was well paid and often done at night which meant that women could do their housework in the daytime

Source: Weir Papers, Glasgow University Archives