WW1 Armistice Exhibition - Serving Women

Women’s Right to Serve

A ‘Right to Serve’ march on July 17 1915, led by Emmeline Pankurst, addressed the lack of manpower in munitions production. About 30.000 women marched in procession through the London streets. Many women came in costume, a Miss Farnar-Bringhurst dressed as a battle-scarred Belgium and walked the entire route in bare feet.

The demonstration was organised to demand the right for women to be allowed to share in munitions and other war work. British soldiers were dying because factories at home could not fulfil demand.  The movement sought assurances from the government that they would work for fair wages.

Women Munition Workers

Munitions factories made bullets and shells for guns. Women were taken on in their thousands to work in factories.

Workers used hazardous, unguarded machinery, which could cause terrible injuries. They handled highly flammable and explosive materials - TNT caused toxic jaundice and workers were nicknamed 'Canary Girls'.

Munitions work paid comparatively high wages and a chance to escape from domestic service, 400,000 left and many became ‘munitionettes’.

Factories offered better conditions, more interesting work and greater freedoms than domestic service had done.

Female factory workers challenged the gender order: earned much more than previously, demonstrated their ability to carry out skilled work and were allowed greater leeway in the way that they conducted themselves publicly.

Trade union leader Mary Macarthur believed that women’s war work would make female suffrage politically unavoidable.

Armament production extended to Aeroplane Construction.