It is February 6th 2018. A quote from The Guardian review for Patricia Fara’s new book* takes us back to 1918: ‘One hundred years ago today, women working in hospitals, laboratories and universities throughout Britain raised toasts and burst into triumphant song as they celebrated being given the vote’. This was a tremendous step forward for women’s suffrage, although it was not until 1928 that all adults, regardless of gender, were given the vote when they reached the age of 21.
As we mark this centenary, we wonder about the students at Salisbury Training College. What did they think about the suffrage movement? Did they feel the winds of change blowing through Salisbury?
The passionate actions and militant campaigns of the suffragettes had made people aware of the injustice that women endured. In 1908, a visitor to Barnard’s Cross, the ‘second house’ of Salisbury Training College, recorded that ‘VOTES FOR WOMEN smiled a welcome from a notice board’. As intelligent and ambitious young women who had embarked on challenging careers in what was still very much a man’s world, the Salisbury students would have taken an active interest in what was going on. Topical debates took place between students at Barnard’s Cross and those at King’s House,
The suffrage movement was suspended during the First World War, with women supporting the war effort, often replacing men who had left their jobs and proving themselves equal to them in the workplace. ‘We could not carry on the war without them’ commented the Daily Mail in 1915. Women led medical research, developed military technology and designed weapons. They became nurses, doctors and ambulance drivers, and in Guernsey ‘conductorettes’ replaced the conductors on trams. Students from Jersey would have heard about the ‘Easter Eggs for Our Wounded’ appeal. The island contributed 70,000 eggs, to be distributed around military hospitals. Women from the Channel Islands joined those on the mainland to work on farms and in munitions and aeroplane factories. At College, students and staff were swept into the fervour of the times and threw themselves into voluntary work. They sent parcels to prisoners, knitted socks for soldiers and raised money for refugees. A student choir led patriotic songs at meetings and staff helped at the Guest House for soldiers.
The work that was done by women during the war was vital for the war effort. They revelled in their liberating experiences and rejoiced to be out of the house and away from traditional domestic duties. They were, however, expected to return to their lower level, poorly paid jobs when the war ended, or to return to domestic chores. In 1919 a Ministry of Labour pamphlet called on women to “help renew the homes of England” by cooking, cleaning and rearing babies’.. Women had had their taste of freedom and independence and it had been heady stuff. The world had started to change but hard days still lay ahead.
It was to be another 10 years before the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 gave men and women the right to vote at the age of 21.
* A Lab of One’s Own: Science and Suffrage in the First World War by Patricia Fara