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The Invisible Workforce of the First World War: An Examination of Female Woollen Workers and Their Community in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley

Ledgard, Gail (2018) The Invisible Workforce of the First World War: An Examination of Female Woollen Workers and Their Community in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley. Doctoral thesis, University of Huddersfield.

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Abstract

This thesis examines the neglected wartime history of woollen textiles in Huddersfield and the Colne Valley, and women’s crucial role in maintaining output. The historiography of female participation in the Great War has concentrated on women entering previously male-dominated work for the first time or women experiencing a brief freedom before returning to the cage of domesticity. These alternative interpretations ignore many aspects of the actuality of women’s lives in industries which already had a large female workforce. Moreover, the historiography of textiles has tended to focus on cotton - the biggest textile industry - and the one most impacted by the war. Yet woollens formed an essential part of the wartime economy, providing uniforms and equipment for the British and Allied armed forces and was traditionally one of the largest areas of female employment. During the war the trade suffered a lack of official interest, public indifference and obstructive policies. Women in textiles were neglected as attention focused on munitions and the adherence to ‘business as usual’ which drained resources of labour and capital from the mills of the West Riding at a time of increased workload and worsening living conditions. In looking at trade unions, housing, leisure, work practices, pay and conditions, and the organization of the wider community, this thesis argues that women cannot be reduced to a single category and that textiles was a much more variegated picture than previously suggested: the view is much more nuanced than either historiography has allowed. Women in the woollen textile industry maintained output despite official policy rather than because of it. This thesis examines how this was achieved and investigates the impact of the influx of working women into the town on existing local gender, social and economic relations. Historians of women’s work in the war have addressed the question of skill in industry (usually in industries where women had no previous role) and whether and how women took on new, more highly skilled roles. This thesis is attentive to the question of skill in the textile industry, and examines the intricate way in which this was culturally determined and highly gendered – and the complicated balancing act attempted by the unions who tried to recruit extra women whilst also maintaining the hierarchies of status in this sector. In the woolen industry of Huddersfield and the Colne Valley, women played a valuable part in wartime production and by examining how, despite their increased importance, their status within the industry changed little, this thesis provides a significant contribution to the picture of women’s work during the Great War.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
Depositing User: Andrew Strike
Date Deposited: 27 Jan 2020 11:00
Last Modified: 27 Jan 2020 11:00
URI: http://eprints.hud.ac.uk/id/eprint/35152

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