One of my favourite subjects is the social changes during the Second World War; I’ve always been fascinated with how life for people changed on the so-called ‘Home Front’, how rationing changed their lifestyle (particularly what was it like for children), evacuation and just really how people pulled together to help each other through the difficult times.
Whilst studying for my GCSE in History all those years ago we looked at Women’s Suffrage, in fact my exam question was to talk about the effect this all had on changing opinions. I found that by taking the middle ground and talking about the positive and negative you not only gave yourself more wiggle room for marks but it also made for an interesting discussion point… was it all good?
I actually say "no". MPs were considering giving women the vote in the 1860s (John Stuart Mill argued for it in 1865), it would have been restricted to married women over a certain age (as it became to be after once it passed) but it would have been a starting point; the argument made against was that women were impulsive, irrational and unstable creatures and unfortunately many of the actions made by the Women’s Suffrage movement (mostly involving the Pankhurts’s) gave those arguments some merit (they were able to go "seeeeeee???!"). On the outbreak of WW1, the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) stopped their violent protests and helped with the war effort – this is what gave women a foothold to securing the right to vote in 1918 not the violent actions of individuals (although it did gain publicity for their cause with the shocking use of violence and force feeding).
The Second World War helped the cause even more and there’s a good book called ‘Debs at War’ by Anne De Courcy all about the subject. I’ve yet to read it but when I do I shall write a review, as well as of ‘Nella Last’s War’.
Of course that’s all my opinion which is why history is such a fun subject, it’s all about interpretation.
You might be wondering what possibly made me bring up this subject, it’s not because there’s an anniversary but because the first women to gain equal pay recently turned one hundred years old.
Edith Kent worked as welder during the Second World War, she was 4ft 11" (taller than me, I’m 4ft 9 1/2") and this gave her the ability to get inside the torpedo tubes. She was very good at her job and was rewarded with equal pay. She only took time off to have her only child but returned to work soon after; it says in the Times article that once the war was over and the men returned she left the dockyard and went to work as a bar maid.
Edith Kent is a women to be admired and I’m sorry that I’m only just hearing about this story. Many Happy Returns, Mrs Kent!