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


Leaflet entitled 'Educated women as war workers: a practical scheme', 20 Sep 1915

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Initially at least, the economic dislocation caused by the First World War aversely affected the economic position of women. In September 1914, 44.4% of women in the paid workforce were unemployed. As the recruitment of men to the armed services increased this situation improved substantially with much of the increase in employment opportunities coming in the area of munitions manufacturing.

Many historians now argue that women's gains as a result of their war effort and greater involvement in the war economy were in actual fact extremely light. There was no overall increase in women's employment after the war as women had concentrated their employment in industries, which either shed labour or restored male workers in 1918 (e.g. munitions). Women who had 'won the war' became 'limpets' or 'bread-snatchers'.

Traditional attitudes to women still persisted within male-dominated post-war British society, for example women were still considered to lack the flexibility for employment in the Civil Service and on marrying female nurses were still expected to retire from the profession. Traditional pressures were applied to return women to their 'natural place' thus there was a barrage of government propaganda exalting the virtues of motherhood. The aftermath of the First World War saw only a minimal expansion in the types of work open to women, traditional values were reasserted and women were still used as a reserve of cheap labour.