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Women and World War I

Nurses Launceston 1917
Seven members of the Australian Army Nursing Service (AANS) in Launceston, Tasmania, 1917. Photo was possibly taken shortly before the nurses sailed on the transport ship SS Mooltan for service in the Middle East including Salonica, Greece. Staff nurse Sister Laura Grubb is on the far right. Australian War Memorial image P02198.001
volunteers packing
Women volunteers packing supplies at the Red Cross for the Australian World War One soldiers, Melbourne 1916. Australian War Memorial image J00346
God Bless Daddy poster
Australian First World War recruitment poster c. 1914-1915. Australian War Memorial collection ARTV00075.

During World War One, women served at home and abroad.

The war provided an opportunity for some women to travel and serve overseas.

Nearly 3 000 Australian women enlisted in World War One and served as nurses who cared for the wounded, wrote to patients’ families, and in some cases, were given added responsibilities and opportunities to be trained in other areas of medical care such as anesthetics.

Some women felt compelled to venture to the war front to help. Launceston-born Ettie Rout  went to Egypt and the Western Front to promote health and safe sex.

The home front

Back in Australia, women “kept the home fires burning”, managed the household and raised the children in the absence of the menfolk.  

World War One mobilised women and consequently volunteerism emerged, with women filling roles normally conducted by men. Women invested a lot of emotional labour in the war effort by caring for the troops and sending comforts to the war front. They knitted vests, mufflers, mittens and socks; packed parcels; wrote letters; and became involved in fundraising for armaments and ambulances. 

Ideological battles

War prompted some women to become politically active. The conscription debate divided Australian society in World War One. Many women actively campaigned for conscription while others promoted peace. War continued to divide women in Australia in the 1960s and 1970s, with many women participating in the anti-Vietnam war protests.

Women have also had a role to play in encouraging men to enlist. Women participated in enlistment marches to encourage men to enlist in World War One. Some resorted to sending white feathers to men as symbol of cowardice for not enlisting.

Loss and mourning

The death toll from the war left many women to mourn sons, brothers, husbands, fiancés, friends and community members.

Other women welcomed male family members home, only to find the men who returned were not necessarily the same men -- physically and mentally -- who had gone to war.


Women’s Mobilisation for War (Australia) by Rae Frances International Encyclopedia of the First World War 1914-1918 Online.