Women and the War
Before WWI most women cared or served other people as nurses, and mothers; and served as shop assistants and domestic servants. Many Wilmington women ‘kept’ their home and family, and were part-time workers in domestic service and on farms and in horticultural nurseries; as well as providing labour at busy times of the farming year.
Local women also worked at Bentley’s Laundry in Barn End Lane, family businesses and schools.
Women were excluded from voting in Parliamentary elections but had the right in local elections and being elected to become Poor Law Guardians and local government councillors.
The women’s suffragette movement had achieved some recognition of women’s right to vote but had not achieved full equality with men.
When the war started men occupying traditional male work were called up to fight, and their replacements became women especially in nursing and armament manufacture; coal mining and bus conductresses; and also the vast amount of clerical war work involved with rationing, payment to men in the military and widows pensions.
Throughout the war women not only undertook their traditional roles but also necessary war work and they continued to care for the home (which involved a lot of physical work); increased queuing of rationed food and household effects, and the constant anxiety about their men ‘serving the colours’. As the war continued so these factors continued to increase.
In 1915 the Women’s Institute (WI) was established in this country and in Wilmington in 1947. The WI was based on a Canadian model; assisting their community and providing self support to women. The WI remains one of the country’s widest and largest organisations.
After the war those women who had known greater independence and greater earning capacity had to forego these as men returned to fill their pre-war jobs. For domestic servants and shop assistants the war time better conditions of work and workplace facilities, shorter working hours and improved pay and spending power gave them a different outlook on life. This subsequently reduced the number of women returning to be domestic servants and so affected owner’s ability to maintain large homes that relied on numerous servants. This led to many local large premises being demolished.
Many men returned from the war injured and traumatised to be cared for by the women in their family. There was no welfare state as we take for granted today. Some men suffered from ‘shell-shock’.
Society recognised women’s invaluable service during the war and their continued lobby to have the same voting rights as men; but it was not until 1928 that male governments and Parliament enacted equal Parliamentary voting rights for men and women aged 21 and over.