What Women Did on the Home Front During WWI

Written by carolyn robbins
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What Women Did on the Home Front During WWI
By the time the first world war ended in 1918, women were working in many areas outside the home. (Getty Thinkstock)

During the course of the Great War (as it was known at the time), which began in July 1914 and ended in November 1918, over 37 million military personel and civilians were killed. With the departure of so many young men to the front lines, the dynamics of the home front changed considerably. Women were called upon to work in traditionally male-dominated fields while continuing their duties as homemakers and mothers.

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Outside the Home

With thousands of young soldiers heading off to war, women were called upon to join the workforce. Women became bank tellers, factory employees, stenographers, phone operators, streetcar conductors, farmers and railroad attendants. The Women's Defense League coordinated jobs more directly related to the war effort including telegraph and telephone operator and stenographer positions. The "Seattle-Post Intelligencer" noted in 1917, that women telegraphers and stenographers were "...more apt than men in this line of work."

At Home

Homemaking and motherhood also underwent a shift as a result of women moving from the home into the workforce during World War I. Since many jobs did not provide childcare, positions for older women who could serve as babysitters and housekeepers became more common. Women of all classes who had functioned exclusively in the homemaking realm taking care of their own cooking, cleaning and child rearing, now called on an older generation of ladies to take care of their children while they worked.

Patriotism

Women were the muscle behind the patriotic support of the war effort offered by organisations such as the Red Cross, Patriotic League and Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA). Women in these groups did everything from knit socks for soldiers to work in military hospitals. Additionally, women were encouraged to recruit men who had not yet signed up to serve as soldiers.

Working Conditions

Conditions in factories, particularly those producing munitions, were dangerous for female employees. Most employers made little effort to accommodate the needs of women -- no rest rooms were set aside for their use and childcare was rarely available. It took time for women's unions to gain momentum and during the war, women were generally paid only half the salary of male employees. While wartime equal pay laws were in effect, employers dodged them by hiring several women part-time to replace a full-time worker.

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