To what extent were women’s lives already changing before WW1?

Young women and boys working in the Comptometer Room at the Stratford Co-operative Society, Greater London in 1914. New inventions like the comptometer (a manual calculating machine) led to new jobs for women.

The Comptometer Room at the Stratford Co-operative Society, Stratford, Greater London. Taken 1st July 1914. Ref: BL22762
The Comptometer Room at the Stratford Co-operative Society, Stratford, Greater London. Taken 1st July 1914. Ref: BL22762 © Reproduced by permission of Historic England Archive

Teaching idea

There has been a lot of research into suffragettes and women’s work during the First World War (WW1, WWI, World War One). In order to assess how much they impacted on the role of women it is important to try and build up a better picture of how women lived in the period leading up to the First World War – the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. This activity gives students the opportunity to use photographs, buildings and documents to find out more about the lives of women from a range of social backgrounds.

The main focus is on women’s work with additional material on education, shopping and leisure. 

Ask students to look through the Image by Theme 'Women before 1914' and choose 10 photographs that they feel give a clear picture of an aspect of women's lives. They can paste copies of the thumbnail sized images into the table in the worksheet and add information from the photograph. They can then link what they have learned to information from textbooks and the teacher's notes to decide their standpoint, backed with evidence, on the key question.

Learning aims and outcomes

  • Students will use primary evidence to help in their understanding of women’s lives in the period leading up to the First World War 
  • Students will be able to demonstrate skills in assessing and using primary evidence, such as the creation of criteria
  • Students will have a more secure basis on which to judge the effects of the First World War and the suffrage movement on women’s lives

Relates to: OCR B - Britain in Peace and War, 1900–1918 - Women

Prior knowledge

Some knowledge of the political and legal position of women and of the suffrage movement. (See Information Sheet above)

Extended learning and useful links

The historic places where women's achievements and experience have made an impression

The fashion for shopping - the Victorian boom in department stores

National Archive's webpage on Women's Work, Living in 1901

1911 census results for Occupations and Industries

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