With the start of the 20th century and the Edwardian age, it has beenpossible to see how women had now more job opportunities and that they wereplaying a more active role in society. Infact, In the early part of the century some suffragists argued energeticallyand peaceful way for the right to vote.
A very importantfigure in this context has been Emmeline Pankhurst, who co-founded the Women’sSocial and Political Union (WSPU) in 1903; to put it in mrs Pankhurst words,the women’s right to vote wasn’t seen as “a right, but rather a desperatenecessity” (Purvis, 2003p.45). Even though women were playing a more active role in society, they had stillvery few rights. A woman was not allowed to own property, her children were herhusbands and it was basically impossible for a woman to obtain a divorce (ref.) Women hadin fact a very stereotypical role in British society in the early 1900’s.
If theywere married, they had to stay at home and look after the children (whiletheir husband worked), while If they were single, they did some work (usuallyjobs like working as a waitress, cooking etc).With the outbreak of WW1, women’s employment ratesgrew significantly: from 23.6% of the working age population in 1914 to between37.7% and 46.
7% in 1918 (Braybon1989, p.49). The new domestic devices such as vacuums, irons, and cookers, eased thedrop of demand for domestic servants in the middle classes. New kinds of jobswere opening up during the war time for middle class women. The number of womenin the Civil Service increased from 33,000 in 1911 to 102,000 by 1921. Theadvantages of these alternative employments over domestic service were higherwages, enhanced independence, and better working conditions (ref).Women’s sacrifies during that time were much appreciated, as the primeminister at the time David Lloyd George talked about how important women hadbeen in that time: “It would have been utterly impossible for us to have wageda successful war had it not been for the skill and ardour, enthusiasm andindustry which the women of this country have thrown into the war” (Whitfield 2001, p.
167). After thewar, the government granted women in the United Kingdom voting rights whichgave women a (limited) voice in Parliament. Social classwas an important factor here as the law that introduced these voting rights (1918Representation of the People Act) addressed only women over 30 who were eitherhouseholders or the wives of householders or university graduates.Approximately 10 years later, The Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act1928 expanded on the Representation of the People Act 1918 giving theright to vote universally to all women (ref).Another way in which middle and upper class women wereprivileged compared to lower class is the access to contraception pills. Infact in 1929 legislation was passed making it legal to abort if the mother’slife was in danger (ref). Other important social normatives of this period included The SexDisqualification (Removal) Act 1919 then enabled women to enter the legalprofession and the civil service and to become jurors: “A person shall not bedisqualified by sex or marriage from the exercise of any public function, orfrom being appointed to or holding any civil or judicial office or post, orfrom entering or assuming or carrying on any civil profession or vocation”.(ref).
Furthermore, World War IIhas also been important as it caused a big rise in marriages but also divorcesas a result of that time’s change in behaviours and attitudes. The employment history in ww2 is similar in many ways to the one of ww1. Gazeley (2008) argues how … during wolrdwar II.Second World War did in fact greatly shortened the extent of gendersegregation of employment in Britain, and gender pay inequality declinedsharply where women were employed in industries that had previously beendominated by men.