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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Great War Series


Boreenatra

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Saw the B.B.C.Great War series this afternoon, about shortages and rationing during WW1 and the resentment of women stepping into roles tradiitionally occupied by men, i.e. factory work.farming .munitions etc.Anyone have any opinions on the huge social change that the war brought about. Regards Steve.

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Steve,

I'm not sure that this created social change in the long term sense for the majority of people, because things largely reverted to the pre-war norm after the men came home.

The need for women to replace men was seen as manna from heaven by the suffragette movement, of course, and rightly so. There is no doubt it helped fuel their cause during the ensuing years.

One section of the population that was affected were the upper classes where the norm had been for women to have virtually no involement, except a decorous one, in life outside the family.

Their participation as nurses etc had exposed them to men from all classes and situations that would have been considered unseemly pre-war (male nakedness, bed-pans etc). After the war I believe this led them to demand more independence for themselves and led to the 'rave-ups' of the 20s.

Interestingly, this volunteering of upper class women was viewed with some suspicion by pscychiatrists, both during and after the war, as not being motivated altruistically but by prurient sexual interest.

Funny thing sex, it gets into everything.

Best wishes

David

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Perhaps everything/one gets into sex.

Chris

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Steve,

'Interestingly, this volunteering of upper class women was viewed with some suspicion by pscychiatrists, both during and after the war, as not being motivated altruistically but by prurient sexual interest.'

Yes, nothing like the frisson of a bedpan

'Funny thing sex, it gets into everything.'

Male psychiatrists...

Marina

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David.Thanks for your reply.Obviously,as we cant experience WW1 years ourselves, it seems at least from our perspective now and of course with hindsight, that the unions that were against the women moving into their traditional jobs ( simply because they were at war) were perhaps not entirely certain how bad things were at home and internationally. Many women being thus empowered,were better off than they had been pre war, perhaps as a result of the shortages of labour, rather than a concerted effort as with the sufferage movement to break into the male domination of the workplace. Oddly enough, one result of women working en mass was to introduce works canteens on a wider scale, but what male( or female) psychiatrists made of that I don't know!!

I just wondered,as you said about the post war equilibrium being maintained when the men returned, if the working class women were affected in the same way as the upper class women were. Regards Steve.

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One major social change from 1913 to 1919 which few people comment upon is the way in which the traditional victorian way of death and funereal practice was swept away. The loss of soldiers away from home meant that the custom & practice of half a century or more no longer held sway and the work of the War graves Commission cemeted that change.

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For the changes in British society, etc. I would suggest Robert Graves and Alan Hodge's The Long Weekend ... it's good history, beautifully written and covers the subject nicely.

As to changes in US ... there were many ... increased focus on the Race question which had gone to sleep since 1876, the women's movement came to age, the Central Gov't participation in the economic sphere, and the Progessives' dilemna and final failure (postphonement, anyway), the "flapper" movement, the adoption of the brasseire as not only accepted, but soon to be required underwear, the lost generation of artistic young men and women, the legion of 30s literature giants ... and realization that there was a world outside the western hempisphere ... (to name a few)

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I am sure that many social changes in Britain saw their origin in WWI, but with a delay before they toolk real effect.

Examples were not so much the move of middle and upper class women into things like nursing, but the movement of women into production, the Glasgow rent strike, the origins of the shop stewards movement, etc. Many of the arguments which would resurface in WWII, such as craft dilution, were raised in WWI.

But given the hungry 20s and 30s (for working class Britons in many areas, the "roaring 20s" didn't even meow!) it was comparatively easy for pre-war practice to re-establish itself. The same happened after WWII until the 1950s demand for labour asserted itself.

What did happen as a result of both wars was the undermining and replacement of attitudes, starting after WWI with the ditching of much of the victorian sentimentalism which had prevailed.

Over the longer change, these attitude changes and the experience of the war years facilitiated material change, particularly for women.

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One interesting point is that in many cases the actual social attitude or commercial work did not change too much, it was just that it was a woman doing the work rather than a male.

For example, I have a photograph of a woman 'butcher's boy' on one of those bicycles with a tiny front wheel. The caption actually says that women were doing men's work in order to release the men for the army.

It's hard to see why, if labour was in short supply people couldn't collect their own meat (or whatever). I doubt that in WW2 there were women delivering meat or groceries. You collected your own (and queued).

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