The following information can be used to help answer the enquiry: To what extent were women's lives already changing before World War One?

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Women’s lives before World War One

The following information can be used to help answer the enquiry:

To what extent were women's lives already changing before World War One?

  • New jobs opened up for middle and working class women - often as a result of new technology. Examples include; jobs as machinists making clothes, office jobs such as comptometer operators, photographic processors, typists and working on telephone switchboards.

  • The development of department stores, aimed at women, led to middle class women going out to shop instead of ordering from catalogues. Girls and women got jobs as shop assistants and some began to live away from home in hostels, often provided by the stores. Hostels built specifically for low-waged single working women emerged from 1900. In 1910 there were about 60 lodging houses for lower-middle and middle class working women in London.

  • Teashops in London were 'an enormous move to freedom', providing cheap meals with female staff enabling 'respectable' women to use them. The first teashop opened in 1884 and there were over 50 shops by 1890. These were followed by the Lyons Tea Shop from 1894 and Lyons Corner Houses from 1909.

  • Laws were passed to try and regulate women’s working conditions - the 1899 Seats for Shop Assistants Act prompted inventions for temporary seating for women shop assistants who worked an 80 hour week and were forced to stand all day – the act failed because there was no enforcement. In 1894 the drapery union called this work 'The Slavery of the Counter'

  • The 1895 Co-operative Women's Guild enquiry found female apprentice milliners (hat makers) and dressmakers under 18 in its 104 Co-operative Stores received no wages at all.

  • The 1909 Women's Industrial Council reported that women homeworkers such as London 'fancy blouse-makers' made only 5s (25p) a week after expenses. By comparison, Fabian Women's Group research showed men's weekly wages in Lambeth averaging from 18s (90p) to 30s (£1.50).

  • As early as 1855, a magazine called 'The Sempstress' carried an article on how rich young ladies could help working women by refusing to shop at any 'emporium' where 'one gets such delightful bargains' and asking why the goods were so cheap.

  • Florence Nightingale set up the Nightingale Nurses Training School at St Thomas' Hospital, London SE1 in 1860.

  • The 1911 census report records that in "all other occupations" (which includes domestic and other allied services, professional occupations, commercial clerks, and all manufacturing industries) the total females increased from 3,817,453 to 4,258,405, or by 11.6 per cent (compared with 1901 – the previous census). It states ‘Probably a large part of the recorded increase for the unmarried represents a real extension of female employment’.

  • Women’s clothing changed from restricting crinolines to clothes that allowed them to take up sports and new pastimes such tennis or cycling

  • Women began to travel on public transport – some trains had carriages just for women.

  • From 1880 all children had to go to school between the ages of 5 and 10. By 1900 97% of children could read and write.

  • By 1900 women were allowed to attend some universities and teacher training colleges.

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‘women work’ and apply Filter for ‘Edwardian (1902 – 1913)
‘women work’ and apply Filter for ‘Victorian (1837 – 1901)


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