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WOMEN IN WWI
DANIELLE HERNANDEZ
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Global I
Ms. Geraghty
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DUE: 4/20/09
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Cries for political and social rights and equality were heard throughout the early

1900s and into the 1920s as they have been for hundreds of years. What is different

here is that those in the street demanding such rights were wearing skirts and lipstick.

Women have always been looked down upon as second class citizens since the beginning

of time but now everything will start to change.

The major factor of the change in womens rights all over the world can be

considered World War I. During and after World War I, women were opened to many

new opportunities. From the very start of the war, women were commonly accepted as

nurses, cooks, and ambulance drivers away from the war front. Only a minority was

allowed to the actual front. Women, however, began to want to take on more

responsibilities. One woman, Dorothy Lawrence, disguised herself as man and joined the

army to fight. It didnt last, though, because she turned herself in fearing that she may put

others who helped her into danger. From this point on, more women were actually

fighting on the war front around the world. For example, the Serbian Army actually had a

woman, Flora Sandes, serve as a major. She was, supposedly, accepted by the Serbs in

their army. One of the most famous combatants of the Great War was a women fighting

on the front for Russia by the name of Maria Bochkareva. Womens being free to fight in

the armed forces, however, was not universally accepted. For instance, even though some

women were more fit to fight then men who were crippled from lives of factory labor,

sexism generally kept them away.

The status of women continued to change after the war had finished. Some

women, due to the stress of the jobs they took in the war, led them to withdraw back into

domesticity. This was, though, generally not the case. The post-World War culture was
an absolutely sign of the burst of independence and brazenness of women. Ladies

dropped the corsets and bulky dresses in exchange for undersized, shapeless, dresses and

short hair which was ideal for crazier, raunchier, dances like the Charleston, the Tango,

the Shimmy, and the Black Bottom. Women no longer cared about simply appealing to

the men in society. Instead, they preferred to support themselves and live a life free of

family obligations. The older, Victorian, generation would still be holding fast to corsets,

bustles, and domesticity, but the new generation preferred entertainment such as

nightclubbing, partying in residential venues, participating in dance marathons, as well as

attending (or performing in) acts of vaudeville, cabaret, and burlesque.

In addition to the rich culture and entertainment associated with the post-World

War Flapper and Jazz Ages, there were also drastic political changes for women.

Womens fight for suffrage was long, painful, and passionate. So many women (and even

some men) fought and died tragically with the simple hope that they may share in a

decision for their countries which they have served so well. This was all paying off

throughout the early 20th century. Country by country and state by state, women were

being granted suffrage, however, it was still not fair in most cases. One controversy

regarding suffrage was that in the United Kingdom, only land-owning women over the

age of 30 were given suffrage. This was an outrage since it was the campaigning,

rallying, and suffering, of the younger generation which had brought about the vote.

Some women were entering new types of occupations that were once only

available to male society. A large percentage of women in the 1920s took up work in the

fields of acting, science, politics, and writing. Many very famous women in history came

from this time period. In the field of science, for example, Madame Curie, a Polish
physicist and chemist, was awarded two Nobel Prizes for her research on radioactivity

and her discovery of two new elements. Elizabeth Blackwell and Sophia Jex-Blake were

the two first women to be accepted as physicians, too. Before this time, women were only

accepted into the medical field as nurses. Some of the greatest female stars as acclaimed

by the American Film Institute first took up their work in the 1920s. Some of these

actresses would include Mary Pickford, Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Marlene Dietrich,

Lillian Gish, and many more. Politically, in the 1920's, American, female, reformers led

rallies for better schools, cleaner cities, more equal labor conditions and pay, and honest

politics. Some women had positions in the military and it was only in 1916 when

Jeannette Rankin was elected the first women of the US Congress.

Between the years of 1914 and 1918, an estimated two million women replaced

men in employment. But, as far as careers and labor went, women were still paid less

than men and treated poorly by most unions. They were not allowed to have their own

unions either since they often worked part-time or for small firms. In addition, widowed

and single women had claims to many occupations before married women.

Women had not only taken control of their careers and life styles, but also of their

personal lives at home and with families. More modern technologies freed up women

more than ever. The rise of new domestic appliances such as cookers, electric, irons, and

vacuum cleaners, came about due to the decrease of women working as domestic

servants. Women also felt strongly against having many unnecessary children as was the

style of the generations before them. Margaret Sanger opened the first birth control clinic

in Brooklyn, New York in 1916. It was closed after only 10 days and she was arrested.

Upon release, she won more support and reopened another one in Manhattan in 1923.
Marriages were no longer rushed into, as well. Women wanted to support themselves as

male bachelors do and preferred to live their lives free from the restrictions of being a

wife and mother. Older generations who married at such young ages were outraged at the

idea of women marrying so late in their lives or not at all.

Such drastic changes in womens history occurred during and after World War I.

Today, women still are not completely equal. All throughout the world, women are still

treated as second-class citizens- more in some places than others. Female society has

come a long way since the Cult of Domesticity but still has some way to go.