Women of the 20th century

September 22, 2022
25 Most Powerful Women of the

By Tim Lambert

Women's Rights in the 20th Century

During the 20th century women gained equal rights with men. Technological and economic changes made it inevitable that women would be given the same rights as men.

By 1884 the majority of men in Britain were allowed to vote. So in 1897 local groups of women who demanded the vote joined to form the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS). The organisation was moderate and its members were called suffragists.

However in 1903 a more radical organisation was formed called the Womens Social and Political Union (WSPU). Emmeline Pankhurst led it and its members were called suffragettes. The suffragettes committed crimes like arson and vandalism. However the suffragettes halted their campaign when the war began in 1914.

However in 1918 in Britain women over 30 were allowed to vote. In 1928 they were allowed to vote at the age of 21 (the same as men). In 1919 Nancy Astor became the first female MP and in 1929 Margaret Bondfield became the first female cabinet minister. In 1979 Margaret Thatcher became the first female Prime Minister.

Meanwhile all women in the USA were given the right to vote in 1920 (although in some states women could vote before that). Rebecca Latimer Felton became the first US senator in 1922. In 1925 Nellie Tayloe Ross becomes the first woman governor of a US state (Wyoming).

Women's Jobs in the 20th Century

More occupations were opened to women during the 20th century. In 1910 the first policewoman was appointed in Los Angeles. In 1916 the first policewoman (with full powers) was appointed in Britain. The 1919 Sex Disqualification Removal Act allowed women to become lawyers, vets and civil servants. (The first female solicitor was Carrie Morrison in 1922). Also in 1922 Irene Barclay became the first female chartered surveyor.

In 1917 the WRNS (Women's Royal Naval Service) was formed. So was the WRAF (Women's Royal Air Force). In 1938 the Auxiliary Territorial Service, the female branch of the British army was formed.

Nevertheless in the early 20th century it was unusual for married women to work (except in wartime). However in the 1950s and 1960s it became common for them to do so - at least part-time. New technology in the home made it easier for women to do paid work. Before the 20th century housework was so time consuming married women did not have time to work. Manufacturing became less important and service industries grew creating more opportunities for women.

In 1963 in the USA an Equal Pay Act compelled employers to pay men and women the same amount for doing the same job. An Equal Pay Act was passed in Britain in 1970. In 1973 in Britain women were admitted to the stock exchange for the first time. From 1975 it was made illegal to sack women for becoming pregnant. Also in 1975 the Sex Discrimination Act made it illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education and training. In 1984 a new law stated that equal pay must be given for work of equal value.

Meanwhile during the 20th century new appliances made housework much easier. (Even at the end of the century most housework was still done by women!). By the 1920s vacuum cleaners and washing machines were available but only rich people could afford them. They became more common in the 1930s, though they were still expensive. By 1959 about two thirds of British homes had a vacuum cleaner. However fridges and washing machines did not become really common till the 1960s.

In 1921 Dr Marie Stopes opened the first birth control clinic in England. Contraceptive pills became available in Britain in 1961.

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Source: www.localhistories.org
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