From Sex-war to Factory Floor: Theatrical Depictions of Women’s Work during the First World War

  • Sos Eltis


Women’s labour during the First World War underwent a period of extraordinary change, while the theatrical representation of women’s work during the conflict was largely characterized by continuity, reaching back to genres and tropes of previous decades and reflecting the radically altered landscape only tangentially. The vast demand for armaments and transport vehicles, the blockades on imported goods which required an increase in domestic food production, and the millions of jobs left vacant by soldiers at the Front, all combined to necessitate the recruitment of women into a wide range of new occupations. The Women’s War Procession in London in July 1916 celebrated the full range of women’s war-time occupations, including station masters, porters, navvies and dock labourers, bus drivers, sheep dippers, coalmine pithead workers, doctors, and, of course, munition workers, including the so-called ‘canary girls’, their skin dyed deep yellow for life from contact with TNT.1 At the end of the war, Helen Fraser, a suffragist who became a government spokesperson for war-time recruitment of women, recorded that 1,250,000 women had directly replaced men in industry, 1,000,000 had been employed in munitions, 83,000 in government departments, and a further 258,300 women had been full- or part-time workers on the land.2


Woman Worker British Library Factory Floor Ambulance Driver Domestic Food Production 
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