It was during a visit to Belgrade, Serbia that I was first made aware of the Scottish Women’s Hospitals and the work they did during the First World War. What saddened me was that the women involved are known about…
The records do not necessarily provide the full stories … Miss Alma Tadema, daughter of the artist, on 30th September 1915 brought to Mrs Webbe, Mme Marie Wybo, aged 29. She had thrown vitriol and threatened suicide. A younger girl in unspecified trouble, possibly theft or being out all night, was Maria Caroline Verwilt, aged 15. In this instance, as in many others, Mrs Webbe was appointed her Guardian by the Old Street Juvenile Court. However, women who were categorized as morally deficient were likely to find themselves in positions where power relationships became particularly complex. One of these was Gertrude Kuypers. In May 1917, Somerset House, responsible for refugee registration, asked the W.R.C.’s Intelligence Department to find Gertrude’s Baby. It was found in Nazareth Convent at Hammersmith, placed there by Father Christie, the Catholic priest who worked with the W.R.C., because the Mother, i.e. Gertrude, was ‘leading an immoral life’.
Due to the likelihood of war and the possibility of invasion of Britain by Germany, the Territorial Army was created in 1908 by the Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane. Its original purpose was home defence. In 1909 it…
‘Men’ who did not ‘get into the war literature’ such as ‘cleaners, launderers and the like’ were, in fact, usually women. The Grantham Labour Exchange worked out a scheme for washing garments by collecting them on Mondays and returning them on Fridays. Each woman was expected to take about twenty-four sets of washing per week, a set comprising four garments from each man; for this she would be paid 3½d per set which would entitle her to 7s per week. It was thought that the plan would benefit local washerwomen by a total of £218 per week …
The Congress was held in the main hall and environs, surrounded by portraits of ‘very important men’ – judges, barristers, queen’s and king’s counsel … As these portraited men looked down upon the women gathered beneath then, voicing uproar and outrage at the ravages wrought by warring in Syria, denial of rights to children born but not formally registered so running the risk of being ‘seen’ as non-existent, the oppression, damage and destruction lying at the base of child marriage, the importantce of ecological balance and taking action to undo the damage of climate change … what would these men have thought?
After the Wall Street Crash of 1929, the Great Depression brought hemlines crashing back down to the floor with its grim psychological effect on the public. The lack of money and merriment meant the debauchery and risk taking of the ‘20s disappeared and was replaced by a return to a level of modesty – both economically and fashionably. The 1930s also saw the dawn of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Whilst many other businesses collapsed, the film industry grew in popularity. Films offered a temporary escape from the harshness of reality. Hollywood made stars out of women such as Great Garbo, Jean Harlow and Bette Davis.
So many presentations included women as subjects, were presented by women, were gender aware, and brought comments from women that it felt like the most gender-inclusive conference on maritime history that I’ve attended since the world’s first (and, still, only) conference on Women and the Sea in Wellington, NZ in 1992.
It’s also the first time I’ve ever seen more women than men at a maritime history-related conference (28 women, 25 men). In maritime history conference until a decade ago the presence of another woman was often so unusual that we would rush up to introduce ourselves;‘A sister in the field, at last!’
On Anzac Day, we forget to tally the lives saved by women by their courage and their votes in opposition to war demands – to forcing boys and shaming men to be soldiers. And we forget that armed force has, since the 1914-18 war, been made the priority of Australia’s defence and security, and that that maintains a strong prejudice against the rationality of prioritising human rather than military security.
The Great War was not the end of everything. Cultural entertainment continued, although tinged with a patriotic influence. Literary works and poetry, theatre, music and motion pictures adopted a militant vision of society. Schools, the press and popular literature drew heavily on anti-foreign and patriotic sentiments, making it easy to demonise the German enemy. Military music and anthems were played on the radio and there were musical performances held for large audiences.