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May 21

Women and the Great War by Linda Andrews

Travel Back in Time today with author Linda Andrews who takes us to the Great War and examines the profound changes it wrought.

My oldest daughter doesn’t wish to get married. To most of my friends, this is shocking. After all, my husband and I have been married for 26 years and have a union most of them envy. She plans to stay with her boyfriend forever and have his children, why not marry too?

For my part, I just want my daughter to be happy and I’m glad she has a choice. She is college educated, works in a scientific field she loves, and has been chosen by her boss for management training. All of these things, her boyfriend supports and applauds.

My daughter’s mother, grandmother and great-grandmother didn’t have so many choices, not without a stigma attached. You know the words—spinster, old maid, dependent aunt, family drudge.

Single women were pretty much seen as a burden to the household. Yes, single women could hold jobs. Jobs they were forced to quit when they married. Yet even while single, they were usually not given a livable wage and their behavior was under constant scrutiny by others.

But war changes many things, and on this, the centennial of the outbreak of The Great War (World War 1) let’s look back and see how far we’ve come.

True, prior to the outbreak of the war, women worked in factories.They were paid worse than a pittance because their work was seen as the work women usually did for families, so it wasn’t as valued as a man’s labor. Some of the women saw a spike in their wages because those companies who accepted government contracts were required to pay the women a man’s wage. This wasn’t benevolence on the companies’ part, it was because the government wanted to make certain the men would get their jobs back after the war (and not be undercut by cheap labor).

The introduction of the typewriter coupled with the shortage of men allowed women to move into the office. Of course, this was seen as an extension of the women managing a household, allowing some bosses to rationalize their demand for bedroom rights. Even so, office work was safer than factory work and had shorter hours.

While we in the US think of nursing as an honorable profession since the Civil War, most of Europe considered it only fit for nuns. This was in part because of their exposure to the nude male form, but also because of the rather horrible male behaviors she would be exposed to. In fact, nurses both secular and nonsecular were referred to as Sisters until World War 2.

During the war, women served on the front lines, but not as regular enlisted. They were civilian telegraph operators, ambulance drivers and couriers. Most of the officers preferred them to their male counterparts. Sadly, this made women who risked their lives to support the military targets of soldiers’ frustrations and envy. Their civilian status also meant they didn’t receive any veteran’s benefits. In fact it wasn’t until President Clinton’s term in office that their service was even recognized. There were not many survivors left at the time.

To thank women for their contributions, women received the right to vote. In the US, the 19th Amendment gave women over 21 voting rights in 1920. In England, all women over 30 received the right to vote in 1918 (by 1928, women over 21 could vote). Germany allowed women to vote in 1918. Austria followed in 1919. Australia and New Zealand women could vote at the end of the 19th century (roughly 1895). Canadian women won the vote from 1916 to 1940 depending on where they lived. French women weren’t fully enfranchised until 1944; Belgium 1946. Italy 1946. Ireland was 1922.

A hundred years ago, an archduke’s assassination led to a war that killed 10 million men in uniform and wounded millions more. It is estimated that 30 million women of that generation were either widowed or forced to remain single because of the casualties. The rights and privileges that so many of us take for granted are because of the men and women who came before us. As we remember the Great War, let us also be thankful that their legacy isn’t just of carnage but of rights, liberties and opportunities that all peoples of all nations can celebrate.

HeartsinBarbedWireMedCoverBlurb for Linda’s book, Hearts in Barbed Wire: (on sale today and tomorrow only for 99cents on Amazon)

Lieutenant Lucien Duplan is wounded and trapped behind German lines. To reach the Dutch border and freedom, he needs Madeline Thevenet—a woman who eases his pain but is destined to become a nun.

Aiding the man responsible for her parents’ death is the last thing Madeline wants to do. But to get her young brother safely to Holland, she will do anything to avoid being caught by the Germans and tried for treason, including putting her heart on the line.

Madeline and Luc must stay one step ahead of the enemy. But the war around them is nothing compared with the battle raging inside. For honor and duty demand one action; and love requires another.

Love’s Great War: Belgium, 1914

14 comments

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  1. Linda Andrews

    thanks for having me blog with your today Anna.

  2. Linda McLaughlin

    Enjoyed your post, Linda. It’s a fascinating era, and I can relate to what you say about women at the time. My grandmother was a schoolteacher who had to quit working when she finally married. She enjoyed teaching, and dragged her feet on agreeing to marriage until my grandfather said, “Bertha, it’s now or never.” I’m said to be a lot like her. (Married at age 40) My mom worked in a factory during WWII making jeep parts for the war effort.

    I like the way you focus on increased liberties & opportunities for women, because otherwise, that war was so devastating. Such a trail of death and destruction. Hope your book does well.

  3. Anna Questerly

    Fascinating post! Things not taught in many schools nor portayed on movies. I’m not usually drawn to war stories, but your book sounds interesting.

    1. Linda Andrews

      Hi Anna,

      I always loved history in school and looked up stuff. It was quite discouraging to realize there was more to the story than was taught.

  4. Guy Ogan

    Outstanding post, it is all too easy to forget the trials and tribulations the ladies all over the world endured in the “male-dominated” world. I’m old enough to remember a “Spinster Aunt” and was in the United States Air Force when one of my fellow officers who was female had to resign when she became pregnant. Women physiologically could withstand more “G” forces than males yet weren’t allowed to be Air Force Fighter-Pilots or Navy Aviators (I loved pointing that out that discrepancy to the higher-ups). Finally, we have women flying whatever aircraft they are willing to become rated in. Its taken a long time but it is good to see females have made strides toward acceptance in a lot of previously denied fields with hopefully more to follow.

    1. Linda Andrews

      Hi Guy,

      I was told 20 years ago that women shouldn’t be allowed th be chemists because we can get pregnant. I’m pray my daughters never hear those words.

  5. Melissa Keir

    What a great post. Women have come so far. We used to have to hide our gender and today, we have so many more choices. Thank you for sharing!

  6. Paris Brandon

    Thank you for such an interesting post. This period in history has always fascinated me and I’m glad to see more books with this setting. Hearts in Barbed Wire sounds like a wonderful story.

    1. Linda Andrews

      Hi Paris,

      I found it amazing that so much is focused in ww2 that the First World War is forgotten.

  7. Linda Andrews

    Thank you Linda and Melissa for commenting. Sometimes it seems so far away and yet it wasn’t really.

  8. Rose Gorham

    What an Interesting post, Linda. Thanks for sharing. Love the cover!!

    1. Linda Andrews

      Thanks Rose. He’s a hunk, isn’t he?

  9. Laurie

    Linda, this is fascinating — I never realized what a difference the war made in women’s rights!

    Laurie, hoping that a century later there’ll be more attention paid to WWI

    1. Linda Andrews

      Hi Laurie,

      It is amazing at how much the war changed things. Thanks for commenting.

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