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The Importance of the First World War in Achieving Votes for Women in 1918

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The Importance of the First World War in Achieving Votes for Women in 1918

The First World War had a serious effect on womens suffrage. Just as

Britain was going to war against Germany in August 1914, the WSPU

declared peace with the Liberals. So in theory the war of the sexes

was swamped by the World War. However, it has been argued that the

greatest effect of the war on women's suffrage was that women were

given the vote towards the end of it. In the past, historians have

generally agreed that women were awarded the vote as a symbol of

thanks for their war work. As ex-prime minister Asquith says here:

"The highly skilled and dangerous work done by women during the war in

the armament and munitions factories……..was probably the greatest

factor in the granting of the vote to women at the end of the war."

Despite this statement, nowadays historians have claimed the direct

link between women's war work and women's suffrage to be a weak

argument. They argue that the emphasis placed on women's economic

input to the war discounts the groundwork put in by the pre-war

suffrage campaign and some even believe that far from the war aiding

votes for women, it actually delayed its achievement. Bearing this in

mind, I shall examine the importance of the First World War in

allowing women to have the right to vote.

One argument is, that a reason for helping women to gain the vote was

the response of Suffragettes and Suffragists in supporting the war

effort. Although, this may seem to be a believable explanation, it

should be noted that the response of the women's suffrage movement was

varied. This means it is important to see how the WSPU and ...

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...isement of some eight million women did

not show an advantage to any single political party. The Liberals and

the Labour Party thought that the new proposed female electorate was

much too large and socially mixed to give any advantage to the

Conservatives. Yet the Conservatives recognised that this time adult

male suffrage was unavoidable and so had little to lose- and perhaps

something to gain- by women over thirty, who were thought to be

politically moderate, to be included.

In conclusion, it would be naive to think that women only received the

vote because of their services in the war. Only women over thirty were

given the vote and they were not the ones who made the most

substantial contribution towards the war. Indeed young women such as

those working in the munitions factories were actually denied the

vote.
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