Accommodating ‘army’ of widows

One problem of the aftermath of the First World War was how to accommodate the vast ‘army’ of war widows in a rudimentary system of social security –still framed within the concepts of middle class Victorian values.

That war widows were to be held in high esteem was beyond question – they had lost their husbands fighting in a noble cause.

Many were left with a number of dependent children and were in need of support and unable to work.

With the imposition of the ‘Pre-war Measures Act’ – designed by agreement with the male dominated trades unions to force women out of the employment they had enjoyed temporarily whilst men were at the front – with single widows with a state pension posing a number of threats to the economy.

It had been hoped that the many pre-war domestic servants (dismissed as a luxury) would be re-employed.

But the war had changed attitudes irrevocably.

The drudgery, long hours and pitiful rewards of domestic service did not attract women who had enjoyed high earnings of the booming wartime economy.

The solution was the imposition of a mean-minded system of monitoring to obtain evidence that single widows had forfeited the right to support by behaviour deemed unbecoming of their ‘honoured’ position.

Faced by confiscation of their allowances, for ‘immoral or delinquent behaviour’ the situation of these single widows was not comfortable.

So, many, faced with falling foul of the puritanical surveillance of the ‘Boards of Guardians’ opted for re-marriage, often into loveless relationships but acceptance as ‘normal’ members of a society built around a ‘woman’s place in a domestic setting’.

Mary Jane Stagg (formerly Philips) was perhaps one of those who forfeited her widow’s pension on re-marriage (with a gratuity of a lump sum payment) for her re-integration into the norms of a pre-war Edwardian society.

Research by the project shows that in June 1919, she was still seeking information about her husband – officially reported killed at Messines Ridge in 1917 but his death not yet confirmed by any witness.

With two young children of school age she opted to forego her £1.45 per week widow’s allowance and re-married.

The grant of a vote in the Electoral Reform Act of 1918 was probably of little comfort to her in a society which was reasserting male domination of the workplace and relegating women to the home.

Anyone with information on this week’s casualties or anyone killed or died as a result of the war is asked to contact the project.

The project workroom at Room B9 Linskill Community Centre, Trevor Terrace, North Shields, is open from 10am to 4pm each weekday for visitors and for anyone interested to learn more about the project or how to get involved.

This week’s casualty list gives details of men from the former Tynemouth Borough who were killed or died in June 1917.

Clark, John, age 55, donkeyman, MN ss dart, LAS, 14th, 6 East Street, Milburn Place, husband of Mary Ann (nee Burke).

Eskdale, Robert Stanley, age 20, Lance Corporal, 2nd/5th Battalion South Staffs Regiment, KIA, 20th, Front Street, Winlaton, late of Tynemouth, son of Robert and Margaret, brother Norman killed at battle of Loos.

Hepple, Peter, age 42, Sergeant 21st Battalion NF (Tyneside Scottish), KIA, 5th, 2 Back Street, Preston, miner, Ritson’s colliery, son of Margaret and late George, husband of Jane Ann (nee Thompson).

Horrocks, Winston, age 16, boy first class, HMS Pembroke, died disease, 29th, Wellesley boy 1912-16, reason for committal, ‘found wandering’, 50 Bloom Street, Oldham, son of Granville and Mary Jane, buried Flaybrick Hill cemetery, Birkenhead.

Hustart, Thomas, age 24, Private, 1st/5th Manchester Regiment, shot by sniper, DOW 11th, 30 Addison Street, son of John and Mary Ann (nee Steer), previously survived being torpedoed.


DOW – died of wounds

LAS – lost at sea

NF – Northumberland Fusiliers

DLI – Durham Light Infantry

RND – Royal Naval Division

RNR – Royal Naval Reserve

RFA – Royal Field Artillery