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Les Femmes britanniques et la Première Guerre mondiale : Ingérences féminines en milieux militaires et civils

Recording women’s work in factories during the Great War: the Women’s Work Sub-Committee’s “substitution” photographic project

Le travail des femmes à l’usine pendant la Grande Guerre : le témoignage photographique du Women’s Work Sub-Committee
Claire Bowen
p. 27-39

Résumé

Le National War Museum’s Women’s Work Sub-Committee figure parmi les organismes les plus extraordinaires de la Grande Guerre. Le Comité, créé en 1917, avait pour mission d’établir un compte-rendu du travail effectué par les femmes pendant la Guerre. Le Comité commanda aux photographes Horace Nicholls, G.P. Lewis et Olive Edis une série d’images qui devaient présenter les femmes au travail dans des professions historiquement masculines en Grande-Bretagne et dans le cadre d’activités bénévoles en France. Beaucoup de ces photographies sont d’une qualité exceptionnelle et l’on retrouve parmi elles un certain nombre des images emblématiques de l’époque.
La question de « gender » sous-tend cette réflexion photographique. Afin d’accomplir le travail de propagande et de mémoire nécessaire, les images devaient faire valoir les nouvelles compétences des femmes tout en préservant les qualités féminines traditionnelles. Pour beaucoup des membres du Comité la finalité des images était de fournir des arguments en faveur de la pérennité de l’activité professionnelle des femmes dans la période de l’après-guerre. Il s’agissait de démontrer que, loin d’être un phénomène pervers ou dangereux, le travail des femmes faisait partie de l’organisation normale de la société. La collection de photographies du Women’s Work Sub-Committee est d’un grand intérêt en raison de l’originalité des sujets et du mélange de techniques photographiques innovantes et classiques. Elle est également un outil précieux pour tous les chercheurs qui s’intéressent à l’histoire des femmes ayant une activité professionnelle au vingtième siècle et, de manière plus générale, à la propagande photographique.

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Texte intégral

  • 1  40% of working women were in domestic service in 1901. The proportion had dropped to 24% by 1931. (...)

1One of the most important manifestations of gender disturbance in the twentieth-century United Kingdom was the shift in both practice and attitudes imposed by the Great War onto the highly gender-inflected field of paid work. There were, of course, women in the workplace before the War — three million of them, essentially from the working-class and engaged in manual work and domestic service. The War changed the perspectives of those women who were already in the labour market, introducing an element both of competition between employers and of choice for employees. For the first time, many working class women found themselves faced with real career options and with the possibility of making choices in terms of salary, hours, training and facilities as well as national interest and patriotism. The rush away from traditionally female domestic work into equally female munitions production, for example, was determined by wages and conditions as much as the desire to support the men behind the guns1. But the War also brought a further one and a half million new women workers into the economy, often from social classes in which paid work was a masculine prerogative and often into professions that had been scarcely or not at all accessible to women before.

2In the first years of the twentieth century, the gender inflection of work was a self-evident source of exclusion for women. With some exceptions, outside the poorest sections of the working class, paid work other than teaching was to all intents and purposes closed to women. The Manichean gender construction of nineteenth-century British society rested, like others of its kind, on a real imbalance of political and economic power materialised — and confirmed — in an ideological and semiological system that placed women and men each in the role of the Other with distinct and opposite competences and characteristics. Feminine attributes (physical frailty, maternal instincts, sensitivity, compassion and so on) were identified as being different from masculine attributes and, while not necessarily inferior, as such, but rather complementary — much was made of the essential nature of female support for male enterprise — they were certainly perceived as a poor basis upon which to venture into a professional existence.

  • 2  Naturally, these patterns did not apply to the very poor where women did the work they could, heav (...)

3That gender was (and is) reflected in appearance is self-evident, and this also had an incidence on the possibilities of access to paid work for women. Constraints of appearance accompanied constraints imposed by social class and clear patterns of what was or was not acceptable in terms of dress and behaviour for “nice” people2. The task of the propagandists during much of the Great War would be to operate a gentle shift in the patterns and principles of perception of nice people and thus to meet the nation’s new economic needs by bringing women into the workplace as competent and equal partners, able to do the job and look the part without upsetting convention. The problem would be to make the new appearances and behaviours imposed upon women by the work environment socially acceptable and thus to allow the exploitation of an extraordinary and untapped labour resource. The solution was to extend the boundaries of convention. They adapted rather than reversed pre-War arguments about women’s roles, dress and aptitudes in such a way as to free women to perform certain tasks and, at the same time, they preserved gender demarcation in two ways. Firstly, certain roles — that of the fighting soldier, for example — continued to be defined as exclusively masculine, on the grounds that only men were naturally fitted to perform them. Secondly, it was clear in the official and semi-official recruiting discourse that the entry of women into the remaining areas of the world of work was to be a transient measure taken to meet extraordinary needs. While women themselves may have considered their war work experience to be both a proof of competence and a promise for the future, the nation and, more specifically, its men, saw simply an operation of temporary substitution with a return to normal gender-inflected functions at the end of hostilities.

  • 3  See Griffiths, op. cit., 13 for statistics on women in industry 1914-1918 taken from the Report of (...)
  • 4  Claudine Cleves, Illustrated War News, 9 August 1916. See Claire Bowen, “Les femmes au travail 191 (...)

4The need to recruit women into all sectors of the economy persisted throughout the War. The massive shift of working class women into better paid and skilled “substitution” factory work of the early years3 was followed by an urgent need to encourage educated women, initially organised into voluntary bodies involved in fund-raising, the provision of comforts, medical services and so on, into the economy. With the increasing mobilisation of men, and especially, therefore, from 1916, women entered virtually all sectors of activity. A great deal of “passive” recruitment was done through the magazine press and in publications reporting on women’s work in particular jobs and places. The texts were generally accompanied by photographs taken by professional operators, often pre-War studio photographers, working on behalf of the Ministry of Information or Ministry of Munitions. What is clear is that, whatever the social class of the reader/observer, the texts/photographs aimed to establish the natural and logical nature of women’s employment in every possible field of activity by extending and adapting the pre-War discourse on women’s qualities and attributes. Thus, Claudine Cleves in her regular ‘Women and the War’ recruiting series for the Illustrated London News is systematically at pains to insist on the excellent family, careful education, acquired skills, and practical but feminine clothing of the women seen at work. The photography is often inspired by the aesthetics of the pre-War studio with gently lit, young and attractive women shown contentedly at work. The point is that the texts and photographs together insist on the exceptional nature of the tasks, the adaptability of the woman worker capable of taking to “callings in many cases quite opposed to her previous experience” and, through it all, the retention of eminently feminine concerns and virtues which persevere for happier post-War times4.

  • 5  The other sub-committees were established to deal with the Navy, the Army and the Royal Flying Cor (...)

5From 1917 there was an intensification of the campaign to draw women into employment by commissioning photographs showing the range of activities in which they were involved and by offering, through exhibitions of these images, public recognition of the value of their work. There was also a formalisation of an interest in the memorial aspect of women’s war work with the establishment in March that year of the National War Museum’s Women’s Work Sub-Committee. It was presided over by Lady Norman and was one of four committees established to collect material for the archives of the future National War Museum5. Its initial objective was to collect photographic information on how women had replaced men at work and continued to replace them at home or had become involved in work in France. The first resources were available in existing archives, including those of the press and photographic agencies, and were photographs taken of women at work since 1914. The second source of material was the pictures commissioned by the Ministry of Information and, progressively, commissions for projects suggested and at least partially organised by the Sub-Committee itself.

  • 6  There are also pictures of women at work by the first Western Front Official photographers Ernest (...)

6The professional photographers, Horace Nicholls and G. P. Lewis, were put under contract by the Ministry of Information to provide pictures of women at work in 19176. At first the Ministry was responsible for the organization of their work. Lists of firms in which interesting photographs might be taken to illustrate the replacement of men by women were drawn up. A manuscript list dated August 1917 includes Lothians Quarry Co., Settlingstones Mine, The British Cyanides Co., Consolidated Borax Ltd., Rylands Glass and Engineering Co. and a seed crusher, a tar distiller, a paint and varnish maker and a sugar refiner. The “possibles” lists established, the Photographic Section of the Ministry of Information then sent letters to the selected enterprises enquiring into the possibility of obtaining good substitution pictures:

  • 7  Letter, J. B. Browne, Photographic Section of the Ministry of Information to Messrs Scowcroft and (...)
  • 8  Letter, Frank Wood, Managing Director, The Rylands Glass and Engineering Co. Ltd., Barnsley to J. (...)

The Ministry of Information is desirous of making a complete collection of photographs illustrating the wonderful manner in which women have taken the place of men during the war.
We understand that you are now employing a considerable number of girls at the pit mouth and we should very much like to know if you think a good collection of photographs could be obtained at your colliery.
It is understood that these girls are manual workers carrying out tasks which require considerable physical strength and which before the war were only undertaken by men.
It would be an esteemed favour therefore if you would let us know if you think we could obtain good photographs and if so if you would grant us permission to send a representative7.
Enquiries were sometimes well received:
[…] we should be very [glad] to see your representative with a view to taking photographs showing women working in a glass house.
Of course women do not do the actual blowing of glass but they do what is known as “cutting off” and ‘”taking in” and they do it very well too.
Photographs would not be very easy to take, but I think you might be able to get a few pictures and if they were printed on a red tone paper they give a very fine effect as all the light parts of the print come out reddish and look like the glare of the red hot glass and furnace.
Any assistance we can give you will be a real pleasure8.

  • 9  Letter, Capt. Hiscock, Works Manager at The Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Hendon to J. B. Browne, 8t (...)
  • 10  Letter, J. B. Browne to The Austin Motor Co. Ltd., Birmingham, 20th June, 1918, Ministry of Inform (...)

7Sometimes they were less well received: “We cannot put up such a good show of women as most firms working in this sector”9. In any event, the Ministry’s enthusiasm was manifest, both in the commissioning of pictures — “The public like to see photographs with plenty of machinery as this convinces them that women are engaged on really arduous duties”10 — and in the collecting of them:

  • 11  Letter, the Art Editor, Daily Record, Glasgow to J.B. Browne, 18th July 1918, Ministry of Informat (...)

[….] referring to your request for photographs of women who are engaged in grave digging and cemetery work at Greenock, we are informed by the superintendent of the cemetery that women are only employed trimming the edges of grass, weeding and hoeing walks and that no women are doing any grave digging. Will you please say if you still wish the pictures and we will send them on?11

  • 12  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, caption to photograph Q.30757 by Horace Nicholls. T (...)
  • 13  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, caption to photograph Q.31234.
  • 14  For example, Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photographs Q.31137 milkwoman, Q.30838 (...)
  • 15  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, caption to photograph Q.30846 by Horace Nicholls.

8What is interesting here is the official preoccupation with the sensational, the “good” picture that shows women in extraordinary situations. This is propaganda photography that shows the capacity of women to adapt to a crisis but the often laboured point in the captions is precisely the transient nature of crisis. The implication of these images, collected, commissioned, made and annotated by men is that while women can do any work if pressed, they will cease to do so once the War is over. For example, “Mrs Rosanna Forster from Kent is a chimney sweep, carrying on her husband’s business while he serves abroad”12 and “The Woman Grave Digger. A woman who in order to continue the support of a large family has carried on for her husband and his duties during his three years absence in the War”13 suggest that work is simply a function of the need to take over the man’s role while he is occupied in the forces. The link with the past and the implication of a return to normality after the crisis is also suggested in the visual language of many of Nicholls’ formal portraits of smiling young women dressed for their occupation but not represented at work as such14. In all these cases work is essentially suggested by clothing, which is on occasion transformed into attribute rather than simple equipment. The fruit picker, for example, “[…] is wearing a cap and smock and holds up a handful of cherries as she sits on her basket. She also appears to be carrying a shepherd’s crook”15. This is a cheery nod to the pastoral tradition and here, as in the other four photographs mentioned above, the picture is less that of a woman at work than of a latter day Marie Antoinette at the Petit Trianon.

9The Women’s Work Sub-Committee, however, soon saw the interest of appropriating the Lewis and Nicholls pictures as affirmations of its own identity, as the following extract shows:

  • 16  Letter, Agnes Ethel Conway, Hon. Secretary of the Women’s Work Sub-Committee  to Lloyd Williams, M (...)

Mr Nicholson has authorised me to communicate directly with you about some arrangements to be made in connection with a series of photographs of women war workers which was taken by your department for the Imperial War Exhibition in January. The War Museum is preparing a travelling exhibit which is to leave London on April 20th for a six months’ tour in the provinces. The Women’s Work Section is to be represented in this exhibition by the above mentioned series of photographs16.

  • 17  Letter, Agnes Ethel Conway to Horace Nicholls, 3rd April 1918. Ministry of Information Papers, Ibi (...)

10It also saw the interest of commissioning projects directly, first borrowing the Ministry of Information photographers. A series of twelve pictures of women in uniform was made by Nicholls with the cooperation of the members of the Sub-Committee. There were, apparently, practical problems: “It is quite possible that there will be twenty ladies to be photographed tomorrow morning and I do hope they will not all come at the same moment”17.

  • 18  See G. Griffiths, op. cit. 1-7, on the substitution project.
  • 19  Women – certainly not the majority of those working in the factories - did obtain a limited right (...)
  • 20  As early as 1916 a sample of 3000 women were asked “Do you wish after the War to return to your fo (...)

11The collection and commissioning of the photographs was increasingly work taken in hand by the women of the Sub-Committee. The evidence of the correspondence in the Ministry of Information papers indicates a gradual transition from the initial apparently haphazard collecting and commissioning of images by the (male!) officials of the Photographic Department with a view to obtaining “good” or sensational pictures to the construction of serious archives for historians and, certainly, to the establishment of a precise photographic (and therefore unchallengeable) record of the extent and nature of women’s activities during the War. It is probably not unreasonable to suppose that this serious iconographic record was intended to provide the basis of arguments in favour of a continuing role for women in paid and skilled employment after it. The Women’s Work Sub-Committee project on substitution in factories did indeed, I believe, contain this hidden agenda18. Suffragist activity had, of course, been suspended, at least by the Women’s Social and Political Union, for patriotic reasons for the duration but with clear expectations of post-war recognition of women’s contribution to the national effort19. The War itself encouraged the appearance of more and more New Women in all classes, women who were waged, independent and skilled and who had no desire to return to their previous activities — waged or not — after the War20. Trade union resistance to substitution, originally criticised as disguised dilution, had been overcome. The global inventory that was to be the substitution project was to capitalise on an apparently favourable climate for the confirmation of the place of women in the work force and to be guided by Women Factory Inspectors with practical experience of conditions in the field.

12At the end of 1917, Adelaide Anderson and Frances Durham suggested that statistics be compiled on the employment of women. The former was Chief Lady Inspector of Factories at the Home Office, the latter Chief Woman Inspector of Employment at the Board of Trade. Both were members of the Sub-Committee. At the beginning of 1918 Anderson and Durham used the figures to establish the levels of women’s substitution activities in nineteen areas of industry since the beginning of the War. It was felt that photographs would be helpful:

  • 21  March 1918, in G. Griffiths, op. cit., 4.

In cooperation with the Chief Lady Inspector of Factories, the Women’s Work Sub-Committee is at work on the formation of a series of photographs for record purposes which shall show the most important processes in which women have acted as substitutes for men in the factories since the War21.

13The dates of the previously quoted correspondence between J.B. Browne of the Ministry of Information’s Photographic Section and various companies suggests that the search for material in the early days of the project continued to be conducted in the usual serendipitous manner. This was unsatisfactory, as the following remarks suggest:

  • 22  Letter, Agnes Ethel Conway to Ivor Nicholson, 20th June 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, op. (...)

The Women’s Section of the Imperial War Museum is most anxious to secure a certain number of photographs of the most interesting forms of substitution due to the war in the factories.
The Chief Lady Inspector of Factories, Miss Anderson, is choosing these subjects for us and is in the act of making out an itinerary which will show us how long the work will take and how many subjects should be listed. This scheme ought to be ready by about July 1st. In each case the Factory Inspector for the district would accompany the photographer and arrange exactly what should be taken. If possible we should like this tour arranged for the latter half of July, and the photographs would be shown at the first exhibition of women’s work to be arranged by this section which will be held at the Whitechapel Art Gallery in the autumn.
We should be extremely glad if we could once more profit by the services of Mr Nicholls in this matter, who has already done so much to help us. Should it be possible for your Department to put him at our disposal for the period for which Miss Anderson is mapping out her Itinerary, it would be a very great advantage to us22.

14This was to be the beginning of a new departure in the commissioning of representations of women’s work. The choice of subjects and, by extension, the companies to be visited could be determined by women whose professional duties had led them to visit every establishment employing female labour and to examine the duties and conditions imposed on these workers. The subjects of the photographs were to be determined by the district lady inspectors — certainly, in agreement with the photographer but, equally certainly, with a rather different conception of what constituted a potentially “good” picture.

  • 23  See G. Griffiths, op. cit., 5-7.
  • 24  G. Griffith notes a two-week field trip during which Lewis photographed women in flour mills and t (...)
  • 25 Ibidem.

15Nicholls and Lewis were seconded to the Women’s Work Sub-Committee on 20th August 191823. The work was organized by Durham and Anderson on the basis of their statistics with Nicholls working essentially in London, Lewis in the provinces. Factory visits were planned with the Women’s Factory Inspectorate and the photographer was always accompanied and briefed by a local inspector who would indicate potentially interesting and useful subjects. The visits were, in other words, managed by women experienced in working with women in a factory environment. The objective of each visit was to record all aspects of working life — the performance of the tasks themselves and also health, safety and conditions. The project was intensive and ambitious. Lewis, working in two-week field trips, covered an enormous variety of activities in short periods and took over 1300 photographs in four months24. By October 1918 Lewis and Nicholls had assembled enough material for a Women’s Work Sub-Committee exhibition at the Whitechapel Art Gallery which attracted 82,000 visitors25.

16 The photographs were of women in all sorts of industrial activities — munitions, building, glass-making, steel, mining, textiles, flour and paper mills, breweries, ceramics, chemicals, aircraft-building among others and showed different jobs from cleaner to industrial chemist. The intention of the Factory Inspectors was to show the range and reality of women’s work and to present a visual representation of the statistical truth that, by the last months of the War, women represented between a quarter and two-thirds of the work force in the major industries with certain sectors such as textiles, clothing and munitions being almost exclusively female preserves. The pictures were not of “Marie Antoinettes” but of women working hard in often difficult circumstances. The needs of the War economy had soon resulted in poorer working conditions and the relaxing of the Factory Acts led to long hours, poor conditions and less attention to safety. On occasion, life could be brutal:

  • 26  Sylvia Pankhurst, The Home Front, 1932 quoted in G. Griffiths, op. cit., 11.

Sometimes a woman wrote to me, broken down in health by overwork, complaining of long walks over sodden, impromptu tracks, ankle-deep in mud, to newly-erected factories; of night shifts spent without even the possibility of getting a drink of water; of workers obliged to take their meals amidst the dust and fumes of the workshop26.

  • 27  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28172 by G. P. Lewis.
  • 28  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28182 by G. P. Lewis.

17The substitution pictures are not about the worst experiences of the factory women. Part of their purpose was, after all, to commemorate rather than criticize. They were a celebration of women’s every day reality. Often they do bear signs of studio portrait strategies from before the War. Lewis’ photograph of three glass workers packing light bulbs, for example, is a both a variation on a nativity scene and an echo of the Three Graces27. It is a composition of balanced rectangles and triangles, lit from the right with this light reflected from the glass packed in the half-filled boxes. A figure crouches over a box on a straw-covered floor. She takes transparent bulbs from a colleague standing in profile to her right. A third figure is framed in the light-filled door in the background, photographed full-face but with the features barely visible. In this photograph, the bulb-packing activity is completely secondary to the possibilities offered by the light playing on the glass and the gestures of the women. Similarly, Lewis’ picture of a welder taken in profile, bending over her work table is less to do with the making of an arcane piece of aircraft frame than of a young, beautiful, female Prometheus creating and controlling a ball of fire28. There are any number of examples of extraordinary compositions made both by Lewis and Nicholls. But there are other things to be said.

  • 29  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28167 by G. P. Lewis.

18Even the most striking photographs — from an aesthetic point of view – are accompanied by a text that places the woman subject clearly and firmly in a professional context. The work is always perceived as skilled, if only because the woman worker is party to the processes and to the special language of her particular activity in a way in which the reader/observer cannot be. A glass worker taken by Lewis is seen in three-quarter profile29. She is a young woman, hair plaited, in a white apron and operating a machine with a complicated system of spindles and pulleys mounted over a waste bin. The photograph is lit from the left and the woman’s face is in half-shadow. The picture is as aesthetically careful as those of the bulb-packers and the welder but the glass-worker’s competence (like that of the welder, also engaged in handling a machine that requires a trained and skilled operator) is conveyed through her absolute concentration on the job in hand and in the caption that tells the reader that she is operating a “bottoming and flattening machine” and has been, therefore, initiated into the secrets of a process and language which are unknown outside the fellowship of glass makers. I think that the power of the substitution photographs and their capacity to transmit the Women’s Work Sub-Committee “hidden agenda” lies in this ability to show women as initiates, as belonging to a trade by right of skill and training. This is reinforced in a number of other photographs in which the work processes are clearly placed centre stage, in which the interest is to present work done by women rather than women doing the work.

  • 30  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photographs Q.28284  “Women Glass Workers handling (...)
  • 31  The phrase comes from Hall Caine’s, Our Girls, Their Work for the War 1916, London: Hutchinson, 19 (...)
  • 32  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28169, photograph by G. P. Lewis.
  • 33  For example, Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photographs Q.28282 (mill workers) and (...)

19Other pictures in Lewis’ glass factory series are interesting from this point of view. Two photographs are taken from opposing sides of the same operation30. Five women and a man are seen lifting a large sheet of plate glass. The first picture, taken from behind two of the handlers and looking across the glass towards their colleagues shows the positions of a team preparing to move a sheet that must be some 5 metres long. The second, taken from the other side of the glass shows the two handlers in semi-profile, standing at the edge of the glass and holding it with long metal bars, ropes and chain links. Both are young, dressed in trousers, smocks, heavy boots and headscarves. There are no affirmations about femininity in either picture. Lewis’ subject here is that of intense concentration on a difficult and dangerous job in hand and of the physical and intellectual skills required to use and control heavy equipment. None of the women are exceptional. They are utterly average in height, weight and appearance and the presence of these women in these photographs annihilates at a stroke all the pre-War and early-War arguments about women’s necessary incompetence due to a lack of size and physical strength. These are not the “superb specimens of virile womanhood” said to frequent the heavy shells workshops in 191631. They are perfectly normal women with acquired skills. Other photographs make the same point, image and caption combining to suggest competence and professionalism. Thus two women glass workers are seen “carrying a sheet of glass from a Lehr table” and handling the sheet of plate without the slightest difficulty. The whole meaning of the photograph lies in the curve of the body and the positioning of the arms as the women lean together to take the weight; so much so that the top of the picture is cropped just above the eyes of the leading woman. Here a classical portrait was very clearly beside the point! “Woman operating machine for grinding ends of miners lamp glasses. At a glass factory, Birmingham” is another study in concentration and in the precise handling of heavy equipment by, this time, an older woman32. Whilst, in a different vein, the group pictures of laughing women workers, makes nonsense of the legendary female incapacity for friendship, solidarity and camaraderie33.

  • 34  G. Griffith, op. cit., 6.

20There are hundreds of examples. Some of the photographs express a preoccupation with composition rather than content and the composition often reflects a pre-War vision of womanhood. Many others, with their captions, move away from the earlier discourses on women at work and towards a position where gender is, nearly, neither here nor there in professional considerations. That is not to say that attempts to adapt an archaic idea of womanhood to the absolute necessity and reality of women’s work — in all sectors — had disappeared by the end of the War, but it is fair to say that the substitution photographs go some way to suggesting new ways of representation. They state that work, even the hardest and worst, does not pervert women in any way. They emphasise new gender characteristics of skill, courage, intelligence, fortitude, learning ability and staying power. By implying new definitions of gender and placing women at the heart of the work process, many of the substitution photographs probably were more than adequate material for the Women’s Work Sub-Committee’s double agenda — to acknowledge hard, difficult and dangerous work well done, on the one hand, and to stabilise the position of women in the economy on the other. They succeeded in the one: by the end of the War the general consensus of opinion was that the presence of women in industry had been profitable and positive. They failed in the other: “Two weeks after the Armistice, 11,300 women were discharged”, women had almost vanished from “men’s jobs” by 1919 and by 1920 men were taking over some skilled women’s jobs34.

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Notes

1  40% of working women were in domestic service in 1901. The proportion had dropped to 24% by 1931. Gareth Griffiths, Women’s Factory Work in World War 1, Stroud, Glos.: Alan Sutton, 1991, 15.

2  Naturally, these patterns did not apply to the very poor where women did the work they could, heavy or not, and dressed for the job in hand!

3  See Griffiths, op. cit., 13 for statistics on women in industry 1914-1918 taken from the Report of the War Cabinet Commission on Women in Industry of 1919.

4  Claudine Cleves, Illustrated War News, 9 August 1916. See Claire Bowen, “Les femmes au travail 1914-1918: l’accompagnement iconographique de l’histoire”, in Gilbert Milliat (ed.), La Classe ouvrière britannique XIX-XXe siècles : Proscrits, patriotes, citoyens, Paris : Harmattan, 2005, 163-188.

5  The other sub-committees were established to deal with the Navy, the Army and the Royal Flying Corps.

6  There are also pictures of women at work by the first Western Front Official photographers Ernest Brooks and John Warwick Brooke, by D. McLellan and Olive Edis. Brooks and Brooke photographed women in the various medical professions, Olive Edis the women of the Red Cross and McLellan WAACs (Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps) in France.

7  Letter, J. B. Browne, Photographic Section of the Ministry of Information to Messrs Scowcroft and Sons, Wigan, 8th June 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, Box 2, Wellington House Files.

8  Letter, Frank Wood, Managing Director, The Rylands Glass and Engineering Co. Ltd., Barnsley to J. B. Browne, 8th June 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, Ibid.

9  Letter, Capt. Hiscock, Works Manager at The Aircraft Manufacturing Co., Hendon to J. B. Browne, 8th June 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, Ibid.

10  Letter, J. B. Browne to The Austin Motor Co. Ltd., Birmingham, 20th June, 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, Ibid.

11  Letter, the Art Editor, Daily Record, Glasgow to J.B. Browne, 18th July 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, ibid. A grave digger was found by the Ministry’s photographers, one Mrs Kitchener of Aley Green Cemetery, Luton, Imperial War Museum photographs Q.31241 and Q.31234. There is also a female undertaker, photograph Q. 31126.

12  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, caption to photograph Q.30757 by Horace Nicholls. The Women at Work and Women in Uniform photographs are available on the website of the Department of Photography of the Imperial War Museum, London at <http://www.iwmcollections.org.uk>. Not all of them are attributed to a specific photographer.

13  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, caption to photograph Q.31234.

14  For example, Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photographs Q.31137 milkwoman, Q.30838 postwoman, Q.30847 fruit picker, Q.30886 farm worker, Q.31003 carter.

15  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, caption to photograph Q.30846 by Horace Nicholls.

16  Letter, Agnes Ethel Conway, Hon. Secretary of the Women’s Work Sub-Committee  to Lloyd Williams, Ministry of Information, 26th March 1918. Ministry of Information Papers, op. cit. My italics.

17  Letter, Agnes Ethel Conway to Horace Nicholls, 3rd April 1918. Ministry of Information Papers, Ibid.

18  See G. Griffiths, op. cit. 1-7, on the substitution project.

19  Women – certainly not the majority of those working in the factories - did obtain a limited right to vote in 1918 and parity was established in 1928.

20  As early as 1916 a sample of 3000 women were asked “Do you wish after the War to return to your former position or stay in what you are doing now?” and 2500 answered “Stay!” See G. Griffiths, op. cit., 30.

21  March 1918, in G. Griffiths, op. cit., 4.

22  Letter, Agnes Ethel Conway to Ivor Nicholson, 20th June 1918, Ministry of Information Papers, op. cit.

23  See G. Griffiths, op. cit., 5-7.

24  G. Griffith notes a two-week field trip during which Lewis photographed women in flour mills and the rubber, asbestos, glucose, India-rubber, aluminium, paint, dye and munitions industries, op. cit., 6.

25 Ibidem.

26  Sylvia Pankhurst, The Home Front, 1932 quoted in G. Griffiths, op. cit., 11.

27  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28172 by G. P. Lewis.

28  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28182 by G. P. Lewis.

29  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28167 by G. P. Lewis.

30  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photographs Q.28284  “Women Glass Workers handling a sheet of drawn glass, Lancashire” and Q.28285 “Women glass workers holding glass in position, Lancashire”, photographs by G. P. Lewis.

31  The phrase comes from Hall Caine’s, Our Girls, Their Work for the War 1916, London: Hutchinson, 1916, 45, and is probably an extreme example of the adaptation (in this case near-reversal) of acceptable pre-War standards of femininity!

32  Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photograph Q.28169, photograph by G. P. Lewis.

33  For example, Imperial War Museum, Women at Work collection, photographs Q.28282 (mill workers) and Q.28303 (pit brow workers).

34  G. Griffith, op. cit., 6.

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Claire Bowen, « Recording women’s work in factories during the Great War: the Women’s Work Sub-Committee’s “substitution” photographic project », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal, Vol. VI – n°4 | 2008, 27-39.

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Claire Bowen, « Recording women’s work in factories during the Great War: the Women’s Work Sub-Committee’s “substitution” photographic project », Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], Vol. VI – n°4 | 2008, mis en ligne le 18 août 2009, consulté le 10 décembre 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/lisa/957 ; DOI : 10.4000/lisa.957

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Claire Bowen

(Le Havre, France)
Claire Bowen is Senior Lecturer at Université du Havre, France and is a member of the Centre de Recherche – EA2610, Littératures et Sociétés Anglophones at Université de Caen. Her research focuses on war in painting, drawing and photography. She has published articles on William Orpen, Paul Nash, Lady Butler, on the Official War Artists of the Great War, on images of women in the Great War, on John Keane and the First Gulf War and on the graphic “construction” of the Battle of the Somme. She is currently working on a book on representations of the First World War, funded by a Paul Mellon grant.

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Les contenus de la Revue LISA / LISA e-journal sont mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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