The First Women in the Workplace

Lady workers, or Munitionettes at William Fosters in Lincoln in mid 1917
Lincolnshire wasn’t just a place of sorrow during the war, the county made great steps in women’s rights, including women stepping into the workplace for the first time.

There was labour in short supply during World War One, the tank factories in Lincoln had to enlist women to fill the gap left behind by the men going off to fight. They were known as ‘munitionettes’ and were key in helping firms keep up with demand for aircraft, tanks, bombs and other war arms.

In 1916, Fosters and Company were manufacturing designs of the very first tank.  As there was a substantial lack of workers at the factory, Lincolnshire women came in to take their roles and with the women taking over, the production of the tank could keep going strong. Working on the tank wasn’t easy work; it was physically challenging and demanded hard labour.  Fortunately, the women of Lincolnshire were up to the challenge and prototypes of the first tanks were produced with great success.

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The Tank Memorial in Lincoln is dedicated to the hard working women of Lincoln who helped make the first tank.

Many of the women had never picked up a spanner before they started working.   They were expected to work 12 hour shifts and as the war grew so did the amount of work, managing to build 1,220 mark IV tanks throughout the war.   This is staggering when you take into account the fact the women had no experience in the factories and they were made by hard physical labour.

Overall, the women did very well; they surprised the men with their ability to undertake heavy labour.  By the middle of the war they were already regarded as a formidable workforce despite their lack of experience.  However, when the war ended the men reprised their roles in the factories and the women were expected to give up their jobs.   Despite not holding onto their careers in the factories women showed that they were more than capable working in hard labour like the men.  The women who built the tank had made the first steps in women’s rights; they had shown the world that they could work in the factories just as well as the men.

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