Women's Role in World War I
During the First World War, women rose to the occasion and filled many necessary roles
Before the First World War, women had been a part of many war efforts in various roles, but, in order to serve alongside men, they had to cloak themselves in disguise. However, this began to change during World War I, the first war where the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps allowed women to enlist. More than 12,000 enlisted and about 400 died during the war.
Women in the U.S. also began working for the American Red Cross and United Service Organizations, as well as in factory, office, transportation, and other jobs vacated by men who were off at war. By the end of World War I, women in the U.S. made up 24% of aviation plant workers. In Great Britain, of 24 million women, 1.7 million stayed at work in domestic service during the war, while 800,000 worked in textiles, 600,000 in clothing, and 260,000 in government jobs or teaching.
Even though women were needed, trade unions in industries such as ship building and engineering strongly protested women doing “men’s work.” Once the war ended, women lost the jobs they were doing to cover for the men while the men were at war. However, because of the strong effort and participation by women during the First World War, Great Britain, the United States, Canada, and several European countries approved the right to vote for women in the years following World War I.
Although some armed services began to allow women to enlist, most women who saw or experienced any First World War combat did so through nursing. British women worked as nurses through Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps, First Aid Nursing Yeomanry and Voluntary Aid Detachment. All three had women working as nurses on the front lines by 1915. More than 2,800 Canadian women served in the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps. Like the U.S., Canada allowed women in the military in roles other than nursing for the first time during World War I. Women in Canada received first aid, vehicle maintenance, and small arms training to serve as guards at home if needed.
The only country to deploy a substantial amount of female combat troops was Russia in 1917. Russia's Women's Battalions achieved success on the battlefield, but did not help increase war propaganda like the government had hoped. Therefore, Russia ended the Women's Battalions within a year.
The following are some of the women who played a significant role in World War I. Note the variety of ways they contributed. Also, even though women were accepted and needed for various jobs, a few women still chose to disguise themselves as men in order to participate in combat.