International Women’s Day: Women on War Work

March 08th 2018 by Liz Bartram

Today is International Women’s Day. We thought it fitting to highlight one example of the contribution that women have made to milling. Inspiration for this blog comes from Lydia, our intern in 2017 who was exploring the Archive for items that are particularly special. The gem she found is a cigarette card dating back to 1916, when England was in the midst of World War One. Read on to find out more…
Poster Image

 “Some of the work in a flour mill requires a good deal of muscular strength, and in peace days such work was considered unsuitable for women. However, when the need came the women proved themselves quite equal to the strenuous tasks required of them”.

So declares the card issued by Carreras Limited, producer of “Black Cat Cigarettes”, along with an illustration showing two women working in a flour mill.

As many people know, during both world wars, women had to take on the jobs of the men who were away fighting. This helped to break down the perception of what was women’s work, along with preconceptions about their capabilities. The work of women in the First World War proved to be monumental in the cause for women’s rights. Their patriotic contribution to the war prompted the inclusion of women’s enfranchisement in the 1918 amendment of the Representation of the People Act. While this move did not give women immediate equality, it was an important step on the path towards full political rights.

The women depicted in this card are shown working in a flour mill, moving heavy flour sacks. This is difficult manual work that was typically reserved for men - perhaps the illustrator wanted to focus on their message that women proved themselves equally capable? Since this card was produced in 1916, it was likely a mix of advertisement and wartime propaganda. These cards were used to promote a particular brand, while also keeping to the shape of the cigarette box. By praising the work of these women (who Lydia noticed look rather glamourous on the cigarette card, considering their job in a flour mill!), perhaps it is designed in part to encourage other women to join in and do their duty for the country.

If you’d like to find out more about the contributions that different women have made to the development of milling over generations, why not explore our set of articles on “Women in Milling”?

The BBC has also published an online article that attempts to answer the question, "What did World War One really do for women?"