This site displays 60 images documenting the ways in which war has affected women’s lives in the 20th and 21st centuries, primarily in Britain. The site presents viewers with many ways they could use these interesting sources to consider both how women participated in the predominantly male domain of the military, and how war affected women’s extramilitary lives. Educators will find the images and suggested teaching exercises easily adaptable for classroom use, although elementary and high school teachers will find more direct applicability than those who teach at the college level.
The images and classroom resources that accompany them are categorized chronologically into four periods: “Pre-1914,” “First World War,#148; “Second World War,” and “Post-1945.” They are also organized according to five themes: “A Woman’s Place is in the Home,” “Women’s Work: War Work,” “That’s No Job for a Woman: The Services,” “War Babes: Stereotypes, Pin-ups and Prejudice,” and “You Have No Right: Protest and Equality.”
The majority of the images (35) pertain to the era of World War II, with comparatively little available for the pre-1914 period (two images only). For the most part, the later the date of the image, the more contextual information is available in the caption. There are, however, frustrating exceptions, such as a post-1945 image whose caption “Demonstration at the Imperial War Museum” contains no further information about the date or subject of the protest.
Fascinating visual material is presented in the collections for both world wars, including several photographs of the Provisional Government in Russia’s 1917 “Battalion of Death,” composed of women soldiers, and British World War II propaganda posters warning servicemen of the dangers of venereal disease (“Don’t be a dope with a dose”).
Teachers might have students use the former images to compare the roles women adopted in the Russian army to those they are documented as playing in the British military. They might then develop research assignments encouraging students to investigate the historic and social reasons for the differing type of labor they performed. Educators could create exercises around the propaganda images by having students analyze the associations of womanhood shown in “social disease” posters with those depicted in recruitment posters for the Women’s Royal Naval Service, and encouraging them to search for the historical origins of such associations.
Generally speaking, the site contains little in the way of background material (on, for example, the history of women’s work, women and war, or 20th-century military history) to assist viewers in contextualizing material at the site.1 Four information sheets of roughly 1,000 words each treat very particular topics, such as the history of the Women’s Naval Reserve. Teachers who require further information can consult a number of reading lists that list material on fairly specific topics, such as “Women and the Holocaust” and “Women in the Spanish Civil War.”
“No Job for a Woman” is particularly strong in terms of its classroom resources. The Classroom Resources link contains sets of creative teaching activities, much of it aimed primarily at elementary and high school levels. Many of the suggestions in this section, such as the “Rationing Challenge,” encourage students to imagine how it felt to experience civilian and military life during the two great wars of the 20th century. Unfortunately, not all of the suggested links contained in this section point to functioning websites.
One excellent teaching suggestion for studying gender roles is the “Right Image, Wrong Image” exercise contained in the “War Babes” activities section. This asks students to compare the ways that femininity is portrayed in both a popular and banned recruitment poster for women.
College educators will likely find the discussion questions contained toward the bottom of the “Using this Resource” link more applicable to their classes. This section, however, may be confusing to North American users because it is organized around Britain’s educational divisions. Questions in this section, such as “What evidence is there that attitudes towards women and the family were changed by the two World Wars?” suggest analytic ways of considering the material presented at the site. Teachers could encourage students to begin answering this question by assessing the types of labor women are shown performing in the images across time.
1 Teachers who would like further information might consult Margaret Randolph Higonett et al, ed. Behind the Lines: Gender and the Two World Wars, (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1987) or Gail Braybon and Penny Summerfield, Out of the Cage: Women’s Experience in Two World Wars (New York: Pandora Press, 1987).