Women in the First World War

The First World War (1914-1918) had profound impacts on the geopolitical, economic societal, and human landscapes, serving as catalyst for a multitude of changes. The First World War also saw women assuming ever more diverse roles in society, albeit true equality remains far from being achieved. This source collection aims to contribute to improve students’ ability to use sources as evidence, by offering visual material on (some of) the roles that women assumed during the First World War. Thumbnail image: Edith Cavell was a British nurse in German-occupied Belgium, sentenced to death by a German court martial over charges of treason following her alleged help to fleeing Allied soldiers. (Tito Corbella, 1915, Universität Osnabrück via Europeana, CC BY-NC-SA 3.0)

This source collection is made by Henrik Hartmann. The collection makes use of sources from the Europeana Collections and is developed as part of the Europeana DSI3 project, which is co-financed by the European Union Connecting Europe Facility.

Women forming frontline battalions

Maria Leontievna Bochkareva (front, right) and Emmeline Pankhurst (front, left) with members of the Russian “Women‘s Battalion of Death.” (Inside the Russian Revolution, p.53, Rheta Louise Childe Dorr, 1917, University of California Libraries)

Women forming frontline battalions

Maria Leontievna Bochkareva (front, right) and Emmeline Pankhurst (front, left) with members of the Russian “Women‘s Battalion of Death.” (Inside the Russian Revolution, p.53, Rheta Louise Childe Dorr, 1917, University of California Libraries)

Women serving as frontline soldiers

Portrait of the Romanian Second Lieutenant Ecaterina Teodoroiu (1894-1917) in 1916. (Unknown, 1917, Muzeul Militar Regele Ferdinand)

Women serving as frontline soldiers

Portrait of the Romanian Second Lieutenant Ecaterina Teodoroiu (1894-1917) in 1916. (Unknown, 1917, Muzeul Militar Regele Ferdinand)

Female aviators serving in the air force

Russian reconnaissance aviators Princess Evgeniya Shakhovskaya (1889-1920) and Vsevolod Abramovitch (1890-1913). Shakhovskaya became the first military pilot in history. (Bain News Service, 1910-1913, LC-B2- 2712-6, Library of Congress)

Female aviators serving in the air force

Russian reconnaissance aviators Princess Evgeniya Shakhovskaya (1889-1920) and Vsevolod Abramovitch (1890-1913). Shakhovskaya became the first military pilot in history. (Bain News Service, 1910-1913, LC-B2- 2712-6, Library of Congress)

Women working in the intelligence

Members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service Signal School in Portsmouth (United Kingdom) using communications equipment. (Arthur David McCormick, 1919, IWM ART 2620, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Women working in the intelligence

Members of the Women’s Royal Naval Service Signal School in Portsmouth (United Kingdom) using communications equipment. (Arthur David McCormick, 1919, IWM ART 2620, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

Women serving as nurses

Two nurses depicted with soldiers, probably in the European Balkan Region. (1916, Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterand 7 via Europeana)

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Women serving as nurses

Two nurses depicted with soldiers, probably in the European Balkan Region. (1916, Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterand 7 via Europeana)

Women serving in the Red Cross

Heidelberg Section of the Red Cross at the railway kitchen in Stryj (present-day eastern Poland), around 1915. (Kommando Hadfy, Deutsche Südarmee, 1915, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek via Europeana)

Women serving in the Red Cross

Heidelberg Section of the Red Cross at the railway kitchen in Stryj (present-day eastern Poland), around 1915. (Kommando Hadfy, Deutsche Südarmee, 1915, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek via Europeana)

Women and propaganda – United Kingdom

“To the Women of Britain,” issued in 1915. (To the Women of Britain, Parliamentary Recruitment Committee, 1915, IWM PST 4884, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Women and propaganda – United Kingdom

“To the Women of Britain,” issued in 1915. (To the Women of Britain, Parliamentary Recruitment Committee, 1915, IWM PST 4884, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

Women and propaganda – United States

“I wish I were a man,” issued in 1917. (Howard Chandler Christy, 1917, IWM PST 17190, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Women and propaganda – United States

“I wish I were a man,” issued in 1917. (Howard Chandler Christy, 1917, IWM PST 17190, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

Women and propaganda - Germany

“Germany’s future lies in our children. Contribute to Germany’s Appeal for the Protection of Babies and Infants.”Ludwig von Zumbusch, (IWM PST 11243, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Women and propaganda - Germany

“Germany’s future lies in our children. Contribute to Germany’s Appeal for the Protection of Babies and Infants.”Ludwig von Zumbusch, (IWM PST 11243, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

Women and propaganda - Germany

“Madame Lieutenant, what does the world cost?” Postcard sent by military mail, 1916. (Feldpost, 1916, Universität Osnabrück via Europeana)

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Women and propaganda - Germany

“Madame Lieutenant, what does the world cost?” Postcard sent by military mail, 1916. (Feldpost, 1916, Universität Osnabrück via Europeana)

Women and propaganda – France

Postcard sent by a French woman to her fiancé in 1915. Patriotic image depicting Marianne with the French flag, indicating “To the Flag! Follow the Tricolour Flag announcing a glorious dawn.” (1915, Archives Départementales de la Haute-Vienne 1 via Europeana)

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Women and propaganda – France

Postcard sent by a French woman to her fiancé in 1915. Patriotic image depicting Marianne with the French flag, indicating “To the Flag! Follow the Tricolour Flag announcing a glorious dawn.” (1915, Archives Départementales de la Haute-Vienne 1 via Europeana)

Living as refugees

A family that sought refuge in cellar belonging to the Pommery (Champagne) estate in Reims, France. (1916, Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterand 6 via Europeana)

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Living as refugees

A family that sought refuge in cellar belonging to the Pommery (Champagne) estate in Reims, France. (1916, Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterand 6 via Europeana)

Working as refugees

Armenian refugees making fly-nets in 1917. (James McBey, 1917, IWM ART 1427, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Working as refugees

Armenian refugees making fly-nets in 1917. (James McBey, 1917, IWM ART 1427, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

Food rationing

A crowd of civilians queuing for food in the United Kingdom in 1918. Food rationing on sugar and other goods was introduced between late 1917 and mid-1918. (Christopher R. W. Nevinson, 1918, IWM ART 840, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Food rationing

A crowd of civilians queuing for food in the United Kingdom in 1918. Food rationing on sugar and other goods was introduced between late 1917 and mid-1918. (Christopher R. W. Nevinson, 1918, IWM ART 840, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

Women working in factories - Italy

A silk mill in the Veneto region (north eastern Italy) in 1918. (K.u.K. Kriegspressequartier, 1918, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek via Europeana)

Women working in factories - Italy

A silk mill in the Veneto region (north eastern Italy) in 1918. (K.u.K. Kriegspressequartier, 1918, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek via Europeana)

Women working in factories - Wales

Female workers in a bricks factory in South Wales during the First World War.(Industry during the First World War, George P. Lewis, 1918, (IWM Q 28440, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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Women working in factories - Wales

Female workers in a bricks factory in South Wales during the First World War.(Industry during the First World War, George P. Lewis, 1918, (IWM Q 28440, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

The struggle for political emancipation - France

Satirical postcard on the women’s suffrage, around 1915. Women are considering whether to vote for “the good-looking,” “the blond haired,” “the lover,” le poilu [“the hairy one,” nickname for French infantry soldiers in World War I],” “the brown haired,” “the shaved one,” or “the dark haired.” (1915, Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterand 4 via Europeana)

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The struggle for political emancipation - France

Satirical postcard on the women’s suffrage, around 1915. Women are considering whether to vote for “the good-looking,” “the blond haired,” “the lover,” le poilu [“the hairy one,” nickname for French infantry soldiers in World War I],” “the brown haired,” “the shaved one,” or “the dark haired.” (1915, Bibliothèque Nationale de France François-Mitterand 4 via Europeana)

The struggle for political emancipation – United Kingdom

Endell Street Military Hospital in London was established in 1915, and employed solely female suffragists (political movement in favour of the introduction of women’s suffrage). Both founding doctors were former members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, leading the suffragist campaign in the United Kingdom. The hospital was ordered to close in 1919. (Francis Dodd, 1920-1921, An Operation at the Military Hospital, Endell Street, WM ART 4084, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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The struggle for political emancipation – United Kingdom

Endell Street Military Hospital in London was established in 1915, and employed solely female suffragists (political movement in favour of the introduction of women’s suffrage). Both founding doctors were former members of the Women’s Social and Political Union, leading the suffragist campaign in the United Kingdom. The hospital was ordered to close in 1919. (Francis Dodd, 1920-1921, An Operation at the Military Hospital, Endell Street, WM ART 4084, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

The struggle for societal emancipation

Women of the British Army Auxiliary Corps at the beach in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage in 1918. (Thomas Keith Aitken, 1918, IWM Q 11056, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)

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The struggle for societal emancipation

Women of the British Army Auxiliary Corps at the beach in Le Touquet-Paris-Plage in 1918. (Thomas Keith Aitken, 1918, IWM Q 11056, Imperial War Museum via Europeana)