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Seizing the initiative

“An adequate representation of the work undertaken by the various Women's Suffrage Organizations of Great Britain during the progress of the war would… be almost of an encyclopaedic nature” Lady Randolph Churchill, "The Feminist in War Time", 1916.

At the start of the war, many women and men were thrown out of work. The Women's Freedom League and the East London Federation of Suffragettes were joined by new organisations started by suffragist women, including the Women's Emergency Corps and the Women's Service Bureau. They ran cost price canteens, nurseries and hostels, provided interpreters for refugees, started workrooms and toy factories, organised fundraising entertainments, trained women for new jobs, and distributed food and clothing parcels.

The war made women workers and volunteers visible in public space. Women Police Service volunteers were on the streets of towns across the UK, patrolling outside munitions factories, railway stations and YMCA huts, and many industries employed women workers for the first time in jobs previously done by men who had been called up to fight.

In April 1917 because of labour shortages and conscription, four Girl Porters were employed in the House of Commons to deliver letters and other items between offices. Aged between 14 and 18, they impressed the initially sceptical Assistant Serjeant-at-Arms with their conduct and work ethic, but were discharged in March 1919 when the male staff returned from the war.