Changing society after World War One

We often think we live in an ever changing world, where, in a blink of an eye, things change and evolve whether we like it or not.  We think that those in previous generations had it so much easy, life was quieter, simpler, they understood the rules of society (the does and don'ts) and life was less demanding.  They just didn't face the changes we do now. 

Those who lived in latter part of the Victorian era, through the Edwardian and beyond experienced change that most of us have never experienced and it had a profound effect on the entire society. To understand the birth of feminism, this is the period that needs to be understood.  Feminism didn't just happen - it was born out of events that disrupted and caused such upheaval in society. 

I have just finished reading "Uncommon Arrangements" by Katie Roiphe and whilst she writes about the married lives of artists and writers I think she sums it up really well:

. . . . they watched the streets fill with the first automobiles. They listened to the gossip about Kind Edward VII and his mistress (Mrs Keppel). They visited the first Post-Impressionist Exhibition, which scandalised the art world with the paintings of Matisse, Gauguin, Cezanne, and Picasso. They read the first editions of Ulysses, which were printed in Paris.  They watched as the novels Lady Chatterlye's Lover and The Well of Loneliness were banned for obscene content. . . . .

We may see major technological change in our lives, they simple saw everything change around them. It must have been both remarkable and frightening.  The rules of the Victorian era were disappearing before their eyes, what was once frown upon, was now trying to break free.

The devastation of World War I had transformed the social landscape: it had expanded the role of women while severely depleting entire generation of men, shaking comfortable Edwardian England from some of its certainties. In the years after the war the liberation that had already begun - the shorter skirts, brighter lipsticks, franker talk, cigarettes - extended into a wider examination of equality, and a rapid rethinking of the institutions of the last century. 

The war changed everything, it placed women into employment, it killed or wounded  hundreds of thousands of men and everyone questioned the past and the future. Women in particular suddenly had freedom they never had before, they finally had a voice (even if small) and with many unhappy about their imposed role in society, they took the opportunity and ran with it.  It was liberating.  They had lost so much as a result the war -  they didn't have any choice but to start a fresh.

Whilst its easy to criticise the early feminist movement, women and girls today have a choice, we really can't comprehend what it would have been like living in a society were we, as women, didn't have any choices or a voice because men decided we couldn't.  

Under the surface, women had been restless for many years - the Great War gave them the opportunity to be do more with their lives. They no longer wanted to live like their Victorian grandmothers and Edwardian mothers and who could blame them. Beatrice Potter once said she wanted more to her life than afternoon teas, I can really understand why they took the opportunity and ran with it. 


  1. It's interesting to look at that era like this, Jo. It WAS a time of great change - and there have been many years of great change throughout history... Sometimes I wonder what it was like for women in Bible times, too - how much freedom did women have back then compared with now? I think freedom for women has come and gone and come and gone probably many times over and to varying degrees throughout history, really.

    1. It has and I think they have felt relieved when they got some - we are only human and like to have freedom like men!! Perhaps similar to the middle east now - it would have been tribal - men traded and women worked on the farms - it would have been tough, as it has been for centuries. Our lives really are very comfortable and easy in comparison.

      But to imagine things like seeing the first powered lights, cars, trains then all the horrors of war and the technology that came with that, it really must have been remarkable. A book I read recently, the owner wouldn't allow electric lightening in his house until the 1940s or something as he considered it "that modern stuff"!!


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