Women at War - the untold story is told at last

The Imperial War Museum has created an archive dedicated to the key work women did in the First World War, launched tomorrow (March 8) to mark International Women’s Day.

The Women’s Work Collection has has been over a century in the making, addressing a story that has yet to be fully told and collated  by the IWM over the last four years.

The task was pioneered by the archaeologist Agnes Conway, one of the founders of the IWM, and her 1917 Women’s Work Sub-Committee she set about acquiring material that would show the full range of female activities during the war, from front line service to home front experiences.

The Women’s Emergency Corps was established in 1914 to find work for unemployed women, but as the war progressed more and more women replaced men in their roles, running shops and offices, driving public transport and working in munitions factories.

And they often worked in peril of their lives. Isabella Clarke described to the archive working conditions in munitions factories, and a tragedy: We were coming home for our Easter holidays and my friend was stopped, and they noticed that both her eyes, and mine, the whites of our eyes were discoloured a little bit, but hers was badly. I came home as usual on my Easter holidays, and then they come and inform me that she had died”. Her cause of death was TNT poisoning.


Through Agnes Conway’s committee, female artists were commissioned to depict women at work during the war. One of the first was Anna Airy, who in 1918 produced four pictures – two of them are shown here - for the newly created IWM for which she was paid £280 each.

The IWM’s Women’s Work 100 programme has supported over 50 First World War Centenary partners over five weeks to promote events, showcase projects and collections and share stories of how women across the world experienced the First World War.


Print Email