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  • Surplus Women: the role of women during and following the Great War

    Monday, October 31, 2016
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    Dr. Bonnie White, adjunct professor, Historical Studies program, is researching the roles, consequences and fates of superfluous women in Britain during and after the First World War.

    As a First World War specialist, Dr. White focuses on the war's impact on women, specifically women's employment in the post-war years. As the war ended, government focused on the reintegration of soldiers into the domestic economy. This meant that many women who entered jobs during the war would be expected to relinquish those jobs once the men returned. Women were expected to marry, but given the number of military losses, many feared what a growing gender imbalance of 1.75 million "surplus" women, would mean for the future.

    This research came out of Dr. White's earlier work on the Women's Land Army (WLA). The WLA was a women's organization that placed women on the land who worked at a variety of agricultural tasks during the war. Dr. White wondered what happened to these women when the land army was demobilized, and her current research analyzes the two options the British government saw for these women.

    "One option was to migrate them overseas to marry men in the dominions. They could marry men in the dominions, have children for the empire, and reconstruct the bonds between the state and empire, therefore creating stronger ties to the empire.

    "The other option for women was to embrace spinsterhood- a derogatory way to speak about women who will never marry.  Women who were wealthy could live out their lives having tea parties or undertake philanthropic work, live their lives in service.

    "One fear was that they would become lesbians."

    Dr. White said the myth of service was one of the most interesting findings of her research.

    "Many of the promises that were offered during the war were just rhetoric," Dr. White said. "They were told 'do your patriotic duty and you'll get something in return.' Women were promised husbands in victory. Men were promised wives. It didn't work out that way. The spinster and the war-wounded both became victims of the war or, better said, victims of the post war."

    What's next for White's research?

    "I am working on a book-length study of the Society for the Overseas Settlement of British Women that was responsible for migration between Britain and the empire and how it sought to refashion roles for women in the aftermath of the Great War."



    Throughout the semester we will highlight some of the interesting research taking place at Grenfell Campus. The articles will appear here, and will be compiled on the research webpage.

    By: Lauren Brake

    Photo: Lori Lee Hollett

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