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Introduction to the stories

Bruce Scates introduces four stories on the theme of women’s unpaid labour during the Great War.
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Welcome back to the 100 Stories. I’m standing by the entrance of Melbourne’s town hall. At the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, this was a place of frenzied activity. Thousands of Melbourne’s citizens gathered in the galleries that grace this great building. They passed one resolution after another in support of the empire’s war effort, they sang patriotic songs, and they listened to the first of many, many jingoistic speeches– speeches that accused Germany of waging an aggressive war, and blamed the Central Powers alone for the madness that was afflicting all of Europe. Many of the loyal citizens attending that meeting retired here, to the town hall’s administrative precinct.
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By the end of The Great War, Australia New Zealand would field over 10,000 such societies, mobilising women in every conceivable way to help that war effort. Much of that work was directed to sending comforts to the front. Women knitted vests, mufflers, and mittens. They raised money for armaments and ambulances. They packed parcels of cakes, magazines, and tobacco, and they wrote one encouraging letter after another to men they would never, ever meet. Now, the volume of this voluntary labour was simply staggering. It amounted, in the words of one historian, to an entirely new sector of the economy, and arguably without women’s unpaid and undervalued work that war could never have been won.
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This is the second part of our module devoted to women and war, and it looks at women’s mobilisation on and beyond the home front. That mobilisation challenged and it unsettled traditional gender roles. It served– especially during the conscription debate– to empower women. This section of the 100 Stories looks at the way women engaged the public’s fear in war time. And it begins with one of many, many women who refused to wait at home, who travelled to war, and who openly flouted the sexual conventions of early 20th century society– Ettie Rout.

Watch Bruce Scates introduce the stories from Melbourne Town Hall in Melbourne, Australia.

Having explored aspects of women’s mobilisation on the battlefield, you can now explore stories of women’s unpaid labour during the Great War.

After watching the stories, we’ll be asking you to reflect and share your thoughts on the different ways women contributed to the war effort.

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World War 1: A History in 100 Stories

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