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Women’s Citizenship (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge)

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Women gained the right to vote in many Western Nations after WWI in response to their help in the war. Yet, their participation in their countries’ political life was often limited by their traditional roles.

At the outbreak of the Great War, women had fought for their right to vote for well over half a century. The war was an opportunity to show their worth, a reason why suffragist movements around the Western World generally supported the war effort of their respective nations. 

For younger women, the war presented a unique opportunity to forge their independence, acquire professional skills (in some cases), and earn their own income. It was a time of excitement and pursuit, much like it was for men, at least in the early stages. 
From a certain perspective, the Great War was an opportunity not to be missed by women. 

The vote? A question of strength

Pinterest pin. The title reads, "The Lost Generation—Women's Citizenship." The black-and-white picture shows a group of women from the 1910s (as their fashion reveals) on an inner-city street. Some of them wear the suffragettes' iconic white. Others wear more humble clothes.

Ever since the process of nation-building started in the 18th century in Europe and North America, nations have welcomed the support of women in times of need. Yet, the prevailing idea about women’s participation in political life was of a ‘passive citizenship’. 
Active participation in the national political and economic life was generally considered a male affair. This idea of citizenship included the concept of the citizen soldier who would defend the nation in times of need and, therefore, almost in exchange, would receive full political rights. This context implied that the right to vote was somehow connected to physical force. 
Consequently, the war gave women—as well as numerous minorities, among them European Jews, African and Native Americans, and several indigenous societies under colonial rules—an opportunity to prove they were fit for full citizenship. In fact, these sectors of society participated in great numbers in the conflict.  

All suffragist movements capitalized on this transition from ‘passive’ to ‘active’ citizenship. The involvement of women in the war effort went beyond the traditional role of ‘keeping the home wholesome’ for the returning soldiers. Women actively joined the workforce, including in roles such as weapon-building, and served on the front lines to aid the wounded. This demonstrated that women were capable of exercising the right to vote, even by the standards of that era.

Almost every women’s suffrage movement took this stance, even when it forced them to distance themselves from their own members who supported pacifism or conscientious objection—both very new concepts. 
Painful as it was, it was necessary to the cause. 

The reward came after the war, especially in the newly created states that rose from the ashes of the German, Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires. In states like the new Russia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Weimar Republic, women gained the right to vote – at least for a time – in response to their support during the war. 

In other nations, like Great Britain, where women also gained the right to vote during the war, the social path was different. Here, like in other nations such as Belgium, universal men’s suffrage became entangled with a new concept of manhood connected to patriotism and active work for the nation’s safety. Men who had actively participated in the war (as soldiers but also as Red Cross personnel) were acknowledged as worthy of the vote (continuous objectors were denied these rights). 

Women’s Citizenship (The Lost Generation #AtoZChallenge) Women's suffrage finally reached its goal in many Western Nations after WWI. Yet, many limitations persisted.  #WomenSuffrage #WomensHistory Share on X

On the other hand, this raised the question of women who had also actively participated in the war as nurses, auxiliaries, or even in the weapon factories. 
In a context where men were rewarded with universal suffrage for the services they rendered to the nation, women could not be left entirely out who did the same thing. 
Yet, even when the right to vote was granted, limitations were also put in place for fear that women’s independent vote could unbalance the nation’s life. 
In Britain, for example, women gained the right to vote only if they were at least 30, householders or property owners. This was a serious limitation since many women owned nothing because all properties belonged to their husbands. 
It’s also notable that the right to vote was given to women over 30, who were likely to be married and follow their husband’s direction in the election, rather than to young, working, independent women whose choices could be unpredictable in an election. 

With all of this, the right to vote was a huge advancement for women’s social role. It might have been a position that suffered numerous limitations, and yet it was undeniable. Once it happened, it could never be obliterated. 


International Encyclopedia of the First World War – Controversy: War-related Changes in Gender Relations: The Issue of Women’s Citizenship

Horizontal banner for the book "The Great War". On the left-hand side is the photo of a group of soldiers standing in a WWI trench. A Yellow button reads, "Go to Shop". On the right-hand side is a picture of a stake of two books, of which only the spine is visible, and the cover of a book standing upright, with the same group of soldiers standing in the trench. The stake of books stands against an olive green background. A big title in yellow reads "The Great War", and a smaller text reads "The updated ebook".


  • D.A.Cairns
    Posted April 27, 2024 at 05:59

    We’ve come a long way since those days and for sure war has been a contributor to furthering the cause of universal suffrage. Despite the horrific downside to war, you have highlighted in your A to Z series the many benefits to society arising from it.

    • Post Author
      Posted April 29, 2024 at 13:10

      Indeed WWI was a very complex event that cast its shadow on history even decades later. Sometimes I think that it reaches us even today in some small things that we take for granted.

  • Ronel Janse van Vuuren
    Posted May 14, 2024 at 13:30

    The patriarchy clinging to power…

    Ronel visiting for W: My Languishing TBR: W

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