British Women Chemists and the First World War

Rayner-Canham, Marelene and Rayner-Canham, Geoff (1999) British Women Chemists and the First World War. Bulletin for the History of Chemistry, 23. pp. 20-27. ISSN 1053-4385

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The First World War is sometimes called the 'Chemist's War' as its prosecution demanded ever increasing quantities of explosives, poison gases, optical glass, synthetic dyes, and pharmaceuticals (1). As the war progressed and severe shortages of chemicals occurred, more and more women were pressed into chemical-related work. Very little has been published about the skilled women chemists who were assigned to war duties (2). They were obviously much fewer in number than the hundreds of thousands of unskilled women who worked in the explosive factories (3), though they certainly did exist. Fortunately, the Women's Work Collection of the Imperial War Museum (IWM) has a significant amount of documentary evidence on the wartime women scientists. This useful material was compiled in 1919 by Agnes Ethel Conway of the Women's Work Sub-Committee of the IWM. Conway circulated a questionnaire to universities and industries informing them that the Committee was compiling a historical record of war work performed by women for the National Archives. In particular, Conway adds: "they [the Sub-Committee] are anxious that women's share in scientific research and in routine work should not be overlooked ..." (4). A sufficient number of replies were received to provide a sense of the breadth of employment of scientifically trained women during the War.

Item Type: Article
Item ID: 508
Department(s): Grenfell Campus > School of Science and the Environment > Environmental Science
Date: 1999
Date Type: Publication

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