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Changing Role of Women in Wales and England 1880-1929 Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

The changing role of women was a significant development in Wales and England in the period 1880-1929 through several other important developments that occurred during this period of time.

WW1 played a vital role in the change of attitudes towards women throughout the world, not just in Britain. Before the war women usually only held domestic roles for example, maids and servants. This is because it was tradition in Britain – men did the hard work, and women tended to look after the higher classes. Women were thought of as not being strong enough to carry out the type of work men did. Only few women worked as it was, many of them, particularly married women, stayed at home and looked after their husbands and children. Previous to 1914 women had no political influence of any form. This is not due to lack of trying, the Suffragettes had been attempting for many years but to no avail. The Suffragettes were an organisation established solely to gain the vote for women. Between 1890 and the First World War, the woman’s movement was extremely active and vigorous. By 1914, the women’s movement was focused on women suffrage. The women’s movement suffered numerous setbacks.

These failures were partly due to opposing organizations of anti-suffragists, who believe that politics was no place for women. By the end of the 19th century, the nation’s view on politics started to change. Women were now fully involved in local politics and were campaigning for the vote. However by the 20th century there were still no universal suffrage, men on poor relief, labourers, factory and mill workers couldn’t vote – it was felt the needs could be represented by their employers, the mill/factory owners. With this in mind, it seemed the time was right for political reform.

Despite more and more women becoming involved in political groups there were still major obstacles before women were enfranchised. Firstly, there was still no universal male suffrage therefore it was almost out of the question that women were given the vote until all men were. Secondly some men who had recently gained the right to vote stood firm on the status of their superiority that women were too ‘bird witted’ to vote responsibly and lastly, before the major political parties were prepared to extend the vote to women they wanted to be sure for whom these women could work for. Eventually, through the actions of both the suffragists and suffragettes women did gain the right to vote. Through the actions it convinced those who opposed to women’s suffrage that women were to be trusted with the responsibility to vote.

However, despite winning the right to vote this was still limited to over 30’s – many women were still disenfranchised. Traditional beliefs about a ‘woman’s place’ were still firmly entrenched in the minds of other people. Although some women had enjoyed independence during the war years at the end of the war they had to give up their jobs to returning service men. There were some changes – many women were employed in domestic service this plummeted and continued to do so. Also, women became better educated and more work opportunities were available to them. It was not until 1928 that women received the vote on the same terms as men, thus truly establishing modern democracy. Women wanted better treatment with regards to work.

Another major development in Britain in the period of 18801-1929 occurred in the beginning of the 20th century. This was a significant problem regarding living and working conditions of people living in Britain which was highlighted and proven of surveys that were conducted in the cities of York and London by Seebohm Rowntree and Charles Booth. It was found out that, Rowntree and Booth’s research-among others, found that about a third of Britain’s urban dwellers were impoverished so much that self-help could not get them out of poverty. The surveys also identified the causes of poor living conditions within Britain: low wages, unemployment and retirement in old age. With the rise of the Liberals in 1906, it was great opportunity for both Rowntree and Booth to give them a clear picture on the scale and increasingly worrying evidence of poverty across the nation which would make it impossible for them to ignore the on-going epidemic.

Rowntree and Booth’s surveys were a significant development in the period 1880-1929 as for the

first time ever, the scale of poverty across the whole nation had come up to attention and was taken

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noted of. It was also highlighted that the cause for poverty wasn’t down to personal inadequacies but a problem that was out of the persons control and could no longer rely on ‘self-help’ which was thought of by the middle classes of Britain at that time. However, although the surveys conducted were important, it wasn’t the most important factor during 1880-1929.

When the Liberal governments came into power in 1906 – around the time of Booth and Rowntree’s surveys, they didn’t have a detailed programme of social reforms already drawn up. Once in power it was obviously highlighted that the intensity of poverty and the problems that came along with it had to urgently be taken cared off in order to help the children, sick, elderly and the unemployed of Britain that were labelled as living under the poverty line (Decided upon the reports of Booth and Rowntree). The Liberals were worried about the growth of the Labour Party that had sprung up from the working class sector of society, under the leadership of Kier Hardie and dedicated to improving the lives and working conditions of the working class.

The Labour Party said that people should have pensions, education and unemployment benefits given to them by the government – this was very popular with the working class. The Liberals were worried that the working class would now vote for the Labour Party rather than itself. The Liberal government had to be seen to be helping working class people in order to secure their votes against the Labour Party. These included, free school meals, school medical services, borstals, children courts, poor relief, private pensions, work houses and labour exchanges for the unemployed.

Friendly society organisations for the workers were introduced and many more recommendations. The Liberals were also responding to fears of Britain’s decline in ‘National efficiency’ as shown in the Boer War. It was shown that 50-69% of all volunteers could not fight because they were unfit due to poverty. This highlighted the need to reform the living and working conditions in Britain as they were living below the poverty line. The government set up a Committee on Physical Deterioration to advise it on what to do. Its advice helped the government to decide that something had to be done to help end poverty. New Liberals such as Lloyd George and Winston Churchill also played a significant part in convincing the government of the need for social reform as they held genuine sympathy for the poor.

With the establishment of the Liberals, the Liberal reforms were a significant development as they introduced a series of recommendations that improved the lives of those in poverty in Britain. However, whilst the Liberal reforms were significant in improving the lives of those most vulnerable, the reasons behind the need for reforms could be argued to be just politically motivated.

Another important development during this time period in which the influence of the working class on government could be felt again was during the General strike. Started at midnight on 3rd May 1926, this was the first nationwide strike to occur. It created bad relations between trade unions and government for many years, a feeling of class war – the poor (strikers) against the rich (employers/owners). The miners were the ones to investigate the strike – the Miners Federation of Great Britain of MFGB. They had to endure unhealthy, dangerous working conditions along with low pay, fear of death and constant abuse from mine owners. After a combination of economic factors, the British coal industry was in deep trouble due to the high price of British coal and lack of demand. The mine owners reacted to this by reducing the pay by 13-38% which caused an uproar the miners who then joined with the Trade Union congress in some seek of support. Failing to make a difference to the mining industry, negotiations with the MFGB, TUC, the mine owners and the government, the General Strike began.

The General Strike was an important factor in 1880-1929 however, not being as significant as the impact of WWI on the Home Front. The General Strike was important as it showed the power the working class held against the government. Tactic after tactics which included Red Friday which involved the government trying to make a negotiation with offering the mining industry £23 million so that the miners wouldn’t have their pay deducted. However, further negotiations failed and the strike still occurred. The lives of miners didn’t improve, the TUC deserted them and the miners were left to fight alone and all had to return to work with their pay deducted and longer hours as many were deprived of food.

The role of women was a highly important development; however, the impact of WW1 on the home front was the most significant development in 1880-1929. When war broke out between Britain and Germany in 1914, the British government soon realised that it was necessary to introduce powerful legislation that would ensure a productive and efficient country. On 8th August 1914, the British government introduced Defence of the Realm Act (DORA). This, among other things, gave the government the power to take over any building, business, land, or industry in the name of the war effort and gave the large powers of censorship. The government took over mines to make sure that enough coal was produced for the war and not just to make money for the owners. They also controlled licensing hours, rationing, British summer time and also diluted beer so workers were sober for the next working day.

Limitations were that some people saw DORA as infringing on the nation’s civil liberties. Another factor included the munitions crisis. By 1915 the army was short of munitions as not enough was being made, the daily mail first reported the problem and people were furious that soldiers were fighting without proper equipment. So, a coalition government was formed to try and solve the problem. This links in with DORA as Lloyd George used DORA to work were they were needed rather than were they could get best pay, many trade unions were angry about this and protested. Though some people who held Liberal principles saw DORA as an infringement of the nation’s civil liberties, the introduction of the conscription act in 1916 for example, was viewed as a great intrusion into the lives of ordinary men, DORA was effective in ensuring that the labour force was working at maximum output, as what was needed during times of total war. DORA has been the most significant was it affected all aspects of life in Britain. It marked the beginning of ‘big government’ which saw the role that government plays in the lives of people in Britain increases more and more.

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