Phyllis L. Buss (1902): Politics, Protest & Class – Writing Lives

Phyllis L. Buss (1902): Politics, Protest & Class

“Well the First World War was being fought now and many of the town’s young men went to serve their country.” (p9)

Phyllis L. Buss’ memoir does not have any definitive mention of her political opinions or reservations, nor does she mention any significant dates that would relate to the political stature of the 1900s. However, it can be noted that her position within society, as a working-class woman, reflects that of the politics surrounding World War One concerning feminism. Phyllis does state quite frequently how the war affected her everyday life, as she was employed into occupations that came about as a result of the war. Her job roles (as discussed further in Life & Labour post), reflect the changes in employment for females. Before the onset of the war, women of all classes were highly domesticated, they were based in the home and were rarely required, even those of working class, to undergo any paid work.According to Christine E. Bose in Women in 1900: Gateway to the Political Economy of the 20th Century, ‘married women frequently engaged in economic roles that were not publicly visible, and their contributions were therefore more likely than men’s…to be hidden in the informal economy.’[1] Women were less respected in the community than males, as they were behind the scenes almost, keeping the family unit together by taking care of the children and the housework such as cooking and cleaning. It was in fact, the male children rather than the women in a working class family that were expected to go out and partake in paid labour if the family was struggling for money.

It was only during the onset of the First World War, when British males were called upon to enrol into the army to fight in war, that women were needed to keep up England economy, as they replaced the men in labour work. It is noticeable then, that in Phyllis’ memoir, she partakes in two different employments during the war, firstly in a shop where she ‘learned a lot about the ways of life then and how some money was made easily to come by’ (p9) and secondly as a telegram deliverer for the Post Office. Both of these occupations would normally have been taken by males, or of women of middle-class, especially in a shop handling money. The fact that Phyllis was given the opportunity to work in those job roles reflects the political stance of Britain during the war.

woman welding

(Women during WW1 partaking in a masculine job role of welding.)

Females uniting in such a way to help with the war effort whilst their husbands and family members were serving their country, lead to questions on their political place within society. Up until then, women did not have the right to vote in Britain at all, they were not allowed a voice in society and certainly not allowed to make decisions within Government. It is not surprising then, that after World War One was over, women over the age of 30 were given the right to vote, almost as a sort of reward for assisting in keeping the UK’s economy running smoothly in the absence of a vast majority of males. Proving that women had the ability to undertake paid labour work, gave them more opportunities in the future, many women becoming independent from males by earning their own wage. Although it was not every woman that could vote, it certainly meant a step in the right direction for political feminism.

poster ww1we can do it
(Propaganda posters of women taking on masculine roles to help the war effort.)

[1] Bose, Christine E. Women in 1900: Gateway to the Political Economy of the 20th Century. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001. 23.

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