The subject of women and how they coped with life during the war offers a real range of topics to explore. The image of women during the war which often springs to mind is of smiling girls in munitions factories or on farms, but these were just a small number and women’s experiences were also tied in to their age, family responsibilities, economic situation, local geography, and a range of other factors which then as now might mean very different responses to the situations in which they found themselves. It is also worth bearing in mind that topics such as Conscientious Objection and Resistance to War are sometimes told as if they involved only men, but many women took a political stand against conscription and the war, and support networks relied on women for disseminating news, organising meetings and supporting the families of those who were imprisoned.
Below are some ideas for the sorts of things you might like to think about. There are a wide range of sources which can be helpful. As a first step, newspapers are a great resource as you will find here details of daily life in your location, plus it is a way of picking up mention of women in a number of roles which otherwise might get lost. Do remember that newspapers do have their own particular editorial policies and opinions so don’t just take things at face value, but for uncovering the stories of what might be called anonymous women as they go about daily life newspapers do give us an enormous amount of valuable material. Another rich source are parish magazines which can give details of local families, initiatives around growing own food, collections for charities; the contributions of the sort of people who would otherwise be lost to us
Where you will find women and (if you are lucky) hear their voices
- Organising social events e.g. Sunday School treats at Christmas, summer picnics, fetes etc.
- Running local charities as fundraisers, organising charity events
- Campaigning on issues such as food shortages, inflation, queues, rationing.
- Joining local government committees e.g. Food Control Committee, Women’s Agricultural Council, War Savings Committee and Military Tribunals – the last is quite rare but there are some examples of women taking a role. It is interesting to see just which women were approached to take on these roles – are they the wives, daughters, sisters of those men who are already involved or are women putting themselves forward for these posts?
- Moving in to new areas of work – often commented upon and held up as a good example for others to follow although often there are concerns expressed around the threat to women’s morals, especially where working alongside men. How welcoming are their male colleagues? Are they recognised as skilled workers? What is the attitude of the unions? You can pick up some idea of numbers from reports of the applications for exemption to the Military Tribunal by business owners.
- Magistrates’ court for examples of petty crime by women and the attitudes of the magistrates to things like scrumping by children, or keeping children away from school to work or queue for food as shortages hit. Very often it is the mothers who come to the court to defend themselves and gives you an idea of how they are managing.
- Advertisements – give an idea of what women are buying
These are just a few ideas to get you going. You might also like to click on the tags or keywords on our website to see what other groups have been doing and how your own research compliments what they are finding. There are common experiences to all areas, but the value of local projects is that they can offer new thoughts and evidence of how women experienced everyday life in the war.