Suffrage in wartime

WOA Reference Collection

At the outbreak of the First World War, Emmeline Pankhurst suspended the activities of the Women's Social and Political Union and concentrated her efforts on helping the government recruit women into war work.

Most other women's suffrage organisations also chose to suspend their activities and many supported the war effort. Active campaigning continued behind the scenes though. 

Changing perceptions

The involvement of women in the war effort did much to change perceptions of the role of women in British society.

During the war years women undertook jobs normally carried out by men and proved they could do the work just as well. Between 1914 and 1918, an estimated two million women replaced men in employment, resulting in an increase in the proportion of women in total employment from 24 per cent in July 1914 to 37 per cent by November 1918.

Women's work?

It had been proved that women were capable of jobs beyond those in traditionally 'female' roles, such as domestic service. However, employers still deemed that women's work was worth less than men's and their wage packets did not match men's even for the same jobs.

However, it was not just that women proved themselves equal to men in the workplace that the arguments for the right to vote were strengthened.

Widening the franchise

The ongoing work of the suffragist movement and the commitment of the growing Labour Party movement to widening the franchise were also factors. Only about 58% of the adult male population could vote before 1918, the remainder being ineligible due to residency qualifications or other restrictions.

Parliament and the First World War


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Emmeline Pankhurst

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