|Suffragette arrest in London in 1914|
Beyond the walls of the government ministries, life went on as usual.
As suffragettes in the United States continued their policy of political activism and demonstrating that women could do most everything a man could do, Britain's suffragette movement turned to militancy. The trigger occurred in 1912, when Prime Minister H.H. Asquith reneged on a promise to give women over the age of 30 the right to vote. The time of peaceful persuasion seemed to have gotten them nowhere.
Led by Emmeline Pankhurst, suffragettes conducted hunger strikes, smashed store windows and chained themselves to railings to demonstrate that they no longer would tolerate policy-makers' inaction on the question of a woman's right to vote. Hunger strikes provoke violent reactions. Jailers took to force-feeding women with tubes to prevent martyrdom. As a political matter, that policy backfired.
Some suffragettes even turned to bombing. On July 9, 1914, two women tried to blow up the Scottish birthplace of beloved poet Robert Burns. Shortly after two o'clock in the morning, a watchman spotted two figures in the nighttime gloom approaching the public entrance to the cottage where Burns was born. He caught one of the them but the other escaped. Officialdom and the male public alike were alarmed to discover that the mysterious figure was a woman who was wearing men's apparel: trousers, waterproof coats, boots and men's caps.
When the woman was brought to court later in the morning to face charges, she refused to enter the dock and claimed the court had no jurisdiction over her. She proceeded to quote passages from Burns' poem "Scots What Hae," which bemoaned political oppression in Scotland and called for a "glorious struggle for freedom." By refusing suffrage, the woman argued, Britain was rendering women as slaves.
The cottage was a popular tourist destination, receiving 60,000 visitors in the previous year.
By coincidence, that same day, The Telegraph reported that a newly published British employment census found that, for the first time, more women were employed in clerical and industrial occupations than in domestic service. Within the previous decade, the ranks of women working outside domestic service had doubled. The days of fully staffed maid service at "Downton Abbey" were ending.
|Anna (at left) and other maids at "Downton Abbey"|
The suffragettes' many contributions during the war accelerated the progress toward the rights they had so long demanded. As The Great War drew to a close in late 1918, British women finally got the right to vote.
As for the other major players in The Great War, leading on this issue was, ironically, politically backward Russia. In 1907 the Czar allowed women to vote in the Grand Duchy of Finland, which was part of the Russian Empire. Immediately women were elected to the Finnish Parliament.
|Hoffman's Ball Bearing factory in England, 1914|
The first woman to lead a major power from The Great War was Margaret Thatcher, elected in Britain in 1975.
Meanwhile in England in early July 1914, the communications revolution continued apace. In London, a delivery van was retrofitted with a complete wireless installation so it could keep in contact with the head office—the first innovation of its kind, apparently. And London's buses began employing interpreters to assist foreign tourists to the capital.
In the United States, a conference of the National Education Association, a campaigner for public schools and the profession of teaching (and later an advocate for higher teacher pay), declared that "sex hygiene" should be taught by parents, not the schools. School-based instruction "will tend to lead to a lower standard of morality," as delegate Charles Keene put it. Also on July 9, the teachers group approved a resolution endorsing the use of cinema in the schools. Such instruction "would give visuality and quicken the imagination of a child to a far greater degree in a few minutes' time than a textbook would in days of study."
And, in a deliberate affront to European nobility, a congressman from Ohio proposed legislation requiring that United States citizens who marry foreigners with titles be subject to an additional 25 percent on their federal income tax.
In Germany, author and poet Johan Waltz was put on trial on July 10 for treason. His offense: writing a children's book was unflattering to German rule in Alsace-Lorraine, the border provinces which Germany extracted from France as a consequence of its victory in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870. The book describes the "patriotic arrogance" of the German schoolmaster. "Altogether the book would seem calculated to the minds of its youthful readers the idea that France is a land of freedom and delight, and Germany is one of oppression and suffering," The Telegraph reported. Rather than face one year in jail. Waltz managed to flee to France days before the war began.
Germany annexed Alsace-Lorraine in the 1870 war, thinking that the action would create a buffer should France ever try to go to war again. Instead it created 40 years of instability. German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck warned against acquiring the provinces because their residents would prove irreconcilable. Indeed they were.
The annexation was one of that factors that propelled France to fight in 1914. One of the main battlefields from the very first day of the war: Alsace-Lorraine.