A scholarly study of the role of suffragists in the years leading up to World War I, of women scientists during the war, and of the kind of discrimination they still face today.
Fara (History and Philosophy of Science/Univ. of Cambridge), who has written previously on both the history of science and the place of women in that history (Scientists Anonymous: Great Stories of Women in Science, 2007, etc.), introduces readers briefly to the status of women and then takes a closer look at the suffragist movement that had been hammering away for years at the barriers preventing women from full participation in society. When the war called men away, women became essential replacements in traditionally male jobs in science, technology, and medicine, but they were often seen as temporary, inferior, and cheaper replacements. The author provides profiles of many of the educated, talented, and resourceful individuals who temporarily filled these jobs. However, as Fara notes, for many of these women, “the War seems to have represented a career hiccup rather than a life-altering event.” When the men returned, many women were forced into lower-status positions, if they kept a job at all. Still, the war had given women a taste of independence and had shown that social change was possible and that there would be no going back to prewar conditions. Furthermore, writes Fara, women had successfully demonstrated their competence, and many had acquired professional qualifications not previously available to them. The author concludes that the suffragists had a clear goal—getting women the right to vote, a right that was granted in 1918 to British women over 30—but that the discrimination facing women continues to be “elusive, insidious, and stubbornly hard to eradicate.” Choice selections from Fara’s wide reading open each chapter.
A densely written, well-documented history of the British experience that will resonate with American women as well.