Meeting Report June 2018
For our last meeting before the summer break Lucy Moore, Curator for World War One, spoke to us about the roles of women in Leeds during that conflict. Lucy is one of our regular speakers who we always look forward to hearing, and she did not disappoint this evening. We were looking forward to the talk because, whilst we are aware of the contribution made by the women who worked in the munitions industry, we had less knowledge of all the other tasks they undertook in WW1.
Lucy began her talk by saying that it had proved really difficult to find out information regarding individual women during the war as it was simply not documented, so although, for example, 16,000 women worked at the number one shell filling factory at Barnbow, the number of individual women whose stories could be told was very small. However she had lots of general information of the industries women had moved in to. The first point she made was that over 10,000 women in Leeds were engaged in unpaid charitable work, for example visiting the homes of soldiers overseas and providing parcels for the troops.
She then moved on to the work women did on the tramways system where they were employed as conductresses. Over 500 women applied for these jobs which, they were told, was specifically only for the duration of the war. On the railways, where women had only been employed in the hotels and canteens, they became train cleaners, porters and shunters, and although Lucy was unable to name the women in her photos they were quite descriptive of the women engaged in these activities.
Many women worked as nurses both abroad and at home, especially in the large country houses which had become VAD (voluntary aided detachment) hospitals. We were particularly amused by the tale of Lady Dorothy Wood, Commandant at Temple Newsam hospital, who was not enamoured by the behaviour of some of the patients, who visited the local hostelries too often for her liking and returned after curfew. She solved this by removing all their trousers from the ward, leaving them unable to go anywhere.
Another unusual woman Lucy mentioned, who was working for the war effort was May Sybil Leslie, who having obtained a degree at Leeds University, continued to work at the university on producing nitric acid.
Lucy ended her talk by explaining two new laws which were passed in 1918, one that there should be no discrimination in employment between the sexes, and one which stated that all soldiers returning from service were entitled to return to their original jobs. Both were seen as good laws but when, after the war, most women were told they were no longer required in the workplace, no help or provision was made for them to move on to find other occupations. This led to the feeling among many women that they were justified in believing they had not yet achieved equal status with men.
Images courtesy of Lucy Moore.
The next meeting on Monday 24th September 2018 will be an illustrated talk by Bobbie Miller - entitled "Quarries: Arts and Heritage" looking at some of the Quarry Arts projects, including musical rocks and quarry tales.