Women Teachers during the First World War

The First World War provided an unprecedented opportunity for women to move into roles and occupations previously reserved for men. The creation of the Women’s Land Army and the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps were very visible examples of women moving into new areas. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million women joined the workforce during the First World War and just about every sector of the economy saw an influx of women to meet both the increased demand for labour and to fill the gaps left by men away in the armed forces.

In many respects the experience of 1914-18 led to momentous changes. The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 enshrined the principle that individuals should not be disqualified from jobs on the grounds of gender. In addition, the Representation of the People Act 1918 enfranchised approximately 8.5 million women. However, while wartime pressures opened new doors many women still encountered discrimination at the workplace both during the war and in the immediate post war era. The school log books and local authority minutes at the Glamorgan Archives chronicle both the advances made by women in the teaching profession in this period and also the setbacks frequently encountered.

Schools were particularly hard hit by the loss of male teachers to the armed forces from August 1914 onwards. In response, local authorities were forced to relax the convention that, on marriage, women resigned from teaching posts in schools. However, as in the pre-war era, they were only employed where there were staff shortages and it was accepted that appointments were liable to be terminated at a month’s notice if suitable alternative candidates could be found.

An entry by the Head teacher of Dowlais Central, Richard Price, in the school log book for December 1915 provides just one of many examples of the precarious nature of work in school for married women in this period.

EMT-9-6 pg37

Mrs Margaret Davies, TCT, commenced duties on Monday December 6/15. Mrs Davies is a married lady and left her last appointment at Abermorlais Girls’ School in July 1907.  Dowlais Central School, log book, EMT 9/6 p.37.

EMT-9-6 pg38

Mrs E Claudia George, TCT, commenced duties on Wed afternoon, 8 December. Mrs George is a married lady and left her last appointment as TCT at Tyllwyn School, Ebbw Vale at Xmas 1908.  Dowlais Central School, log book, EMT 9/6 p.38.

Yet only 7 months later Richard Price confirmed that Claudia George and Margaret Davies, along with a Mrs Cummings, had ‘finished their duties at this school’ (Dowlais Central School, log book, EMT 9/6 p.50).

EMT-9-6 pg50

This was just the beginning of an ongoing round of employment and dismissal for Claudia and Margaret throughout the war. By October 1916 both had been re-employed (Dowlais Central School, log book, EMT 9/6, p.52). However, two months after the end of hostilities, on 31 January 1919, both women had ‘left the service of the Education Authority at this school on the afternoon of this day’ (Dowlais Central School, log book, EMT 9/6, p.86).

During the war the records of Merthyr Tydfil Borough Council confirm that there were frequently up to 40 married women teachers employed in schools in the borough. This included appointments to boys’ schools that would have been unheard of prior to 1914. However, the advice provided to the Borough Council Education Committee in July 1916 by Rhys Elias, Director of Education, underlined that, while the authority felt that it had little option but to employ married women in schools, there was a determination to end the appointments as soon as possible.



The committee agreed that notice be given to all married women teachers and to terminate their engagements at the end of the month of July 1916. Claudia George and Margaret Davies were, therefore, just 2 of 40 women that lost their jobs as a result of this decision. Their places were filled by students completing their College Course or Pupil and Student Teachers finishing their period of apprenticeship. (Merthyr Tydfil Borough, Education Committee minutes, BMT1/26 pp.602-3). This approach was followed throughout the war with married women employed to meet shortages on short term contracts that were terminated as soon as alternative candidates could be found.

In the post war period it is thought that many, and possibly as many as half, of the women employed during the war across all sectors of the economy left or lost their jobs. In particular, the Restoration of Pre-war Practices Act 1919 underlined the expectation that women employed during the war would give up their jobs to returning service personnel. In January 1919 the Merthyr Borough Council served warning to all married female teachers that their contracts were to be terminated.

The Director of Education reported that having regard to the probable early release from Military Service of a number of men teachers he had given notice to all married women (temporary) teachers now serving under the Authority to determine their engagement at the end of January, and that any further employment after that date would be subject to a week’s notice on either side. Merthyr Tydfil Borough, Education Committee, minute book no. 29, BMT1/29 p.183.

Once again Claudia George and Margaret Davies were casualties of the Authority’s decision. At subsequent meetings the Authority agreed to re-employ 28 male teaches on release from the Armed Forces in February and further 10 in April 1919 (Merthyr Tydfil Borough, Education Committee, minute book no. 29, BMT1/29 p.246 and p.474)

This might have been seen as surprising in the light of the provisions in the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 that removed restrictions on the appointment of women. In practice employers saw the Act as providing the opportunity to appoint women to previously all-male professions. However, it was not seen as establishing a right for women to be considered for employment on the same terms as men. This was graphically illustrated in the teaching profession in south Wales in 1923 when 58 married women teachers dismissed by the Rhondda Education Authority brought a case against the Council. In Price v Rhondda Urban District Council it was ruled that the Council had not violated the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act by dismissing the teachers. During this period the imposition by many local authorities of a formal marriage bar in the teaching profession was based on the belief that employers could, where they wished, continue to restrict employment to one sex.

The First World War led to new opportunities for many women in the teaching profession. Many schools could not have continued without the influx of married women and for the first time, in most areas of Wales, women were employed in boys’ schools. Set against this, in the post war period, in the limited circumstances where married women were able to secure employment in schools, their contracts were likely to be terminated with a month’s notice. The records for Dowlais Central confirm that, on 4 March 1919, there were 21 teachers employed at the school – 12 men and 9 unmarried women (Dowlais Central School, log book, EMT 9/6 p.91. The creation at the end of the First World War of the National Union of Women Teachers was, therefore, a potent symbol of the further battles that lay ahead to improve equality of opportunity.

Tony Peters, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

Dealing with Nitrate Film at Glamorgan Archives

Archives can hold collections made up of all sorts of materials; everything from parchment, paper, wax or metal seals and photo-reprographics, to negatives made from glass, paper, cellulose nitrate, cellulose acetate and polyester. All these materials are affected by different environmental conditions and degrade in different ways, some of which can pose significant risks, including to human health. One of these in particular is cellulose nitrate film.

Cellulose nitrate film was used from around 1889 to around 1950. Before nitrate film came along, glass plate negatives had been used. These were very expensive and could be quite tricky to handle. Nitrate film helped to popularise amateur photography by making it more affordable for the masses. As a result, most archives have large numbers of photographic negatives, with many made from nitrate and acetate films.

Cellulose nitrate is very flammable and capable of burning even in the absence of oxygen, and even when underwater! Nitrate film is also chemically unstable; the film support gradually turns yellow, brittle and sticky. It emits harmful corrosive by-products with an acrid smell, which cause fading of the silver image, de­composition of the gelatine binder and, eventually, the complete destruction the negative.

Single negative

Recently, a large number of cellulose nitrate negatives were discovered in the strongrooms of Glamorgan Archives.

Negative bundle

On opening the boxes the negatives were found to be degrading and were giving off a slightly cheesy acrid smell. They were immediately removed to the conservation studio and placed in the fume cupboard to ensure that the nitric acid vapour being emitted was contained. Wearing personal protective equipment and using a portable extraction unit it was possible to vacuum pack the cellulose nitrate negatives and move them for permanent storage in the freezer.


The negatives are vacuum packed to protect them from the environment within the freezer, to prevent contamination from anything else that is stored in the freezer, and to prevent the gas that is emitted by the negatives from contaminating anything else in freezer. By storing the negatives in the freezer it is possible to prevent further degradation and prolong the life of the negatives.  Nitrate film requires hot or warm temperatures to self-combust and so being held at cold temperatures will help prevent this.


This is not the end of the story; plans are in place to digitise these items, so that although the negatives may be in danger, the images they contain will be secured for the future.

Egbert the Tank visits Bridgend

During the First World War it became clear that without financial contributions from the public and from businesses and other institutions the war effort would run out of money to buy equipment and keep services running.

One way of raising money was to form a War Savings Association. One institution to do so early in the war was Bettws Pontycymmer Infants School, who formed a War Savings Association in February of 1915 (EM/8/1). By June of 1917 the authorities were embarking on a campaign to raise awareness of War Savings. Several schools closed for an afternoon that month so that teachers could attend conferences with representatives of the National War Savings Committee, so they could be advised as to how to set up a War Savings Association in a school.

After the Battle of Cambrai in November of 1917, where tanks were first successful, the public wanted to see them for themselves. The authorities realised they could use public exhibitions of tanks as a way of raising money for the National War Savings Committee.

Egbert was the first to be used as a ‘Tank Bank’ when it was retrieved from the battlefield, shipped to London and put on display in Trafalgar Square. People would queue up to see the tank, having bought War Bonds and certificates, and these bonds and certificates would be stamped by women who were seated inside the tank. This was successful so more tanks came home from France and Belgium and toured the country.

The Tank Banks also had another role to play; they were tasked with raising morale and patriotic fervour.

Before visiting Bridgend, Egbert had already visited Treherbert: School closed, owing to the visit of the Tank ‘Egbert’ to Treherbert. Dunraven Girls School, log book (ER14/3)

The visit of Egbert to Bridgend had first been discussed by Bridgend Urban District Council on the 6th of June 1918:

The Clerk reported that the authorities had now agreed to send a real tank to Bridgend on the 18th and 19th. It was then resolved that the council bear the expenses of printing , postages, and other local expenses not paid by the Treasury and the action of the chairman and clerk in calling a meeting of probable workers in connection with the visit was approved. Bridgend Urban District Council, minutes (UDBR/C/1/13)

When the tank visited on the 18th and 19th of June 1918, several schools granted a half or whole day’s holiday so that the children and their families could visit the tank and invest in it through certificates as a form of War Bond:

Yesterday the 18th inst a holiday was given owing to the Tank being at Bridgend & Ogmore Vale. I collected on Monday last from the children of this school the sum of £4.4.0 for the Tank at Ogmore Vale, 5 certificates were bought & the rest is invested in stamps towards certificates. Blackmill Mixed and Infants School, log book (EM5/1)

School closed all day for the visit of the Tank “Egbert” to the town. In the last three days the sum of £234-1-0 has been collected in this department and spent on the purchases of War Saving Certificates. Oldcastle Boys School, log book (EM9/8)

I took depositors in Tank War Loan to visit the Tank “Egbert” bearing bomb holes inflicted by the Huns. The children’s certificates were stamped at the tank. Llynderw Infants School, Maesteg, log book (EM32/1)

The school was closed on Tuesday in order that the Scholars may be enabled to visit Bridgend to view the Tank “Egbert” and place some of their savings in the War Loan. The War Savings’ Association established in connection with the School is in a flourishing condition and about £250 has been deposited… Penybont Mixed and Infants School, log book (EM42/1)

The Headteacher at Penybont School noted the area’s immense achievement:

The tank “Egbert” paid a visit to our town on Tuesday and Wednesday, 18th and 19th inst. The huge sum of £230,500 was invested in the tank by the people of Bridgend and the surrounding district. As the population of the town is now only about 7,500 the above sum represents a sum per head of head of over £30. One of the best contributions in the Kingdom. The proceedings in front of the Town Hall where the tank was stationed were characterised by great enthusiasm and patriotic fervour. The Choir of our school occupied the stage in front of the tank an two occasions and sang numerous patriotic and national songs, to the evident pleasure of the great assemblage, which completely filled the square. Our School Assoc’, The Penybont Boys War Savings Association invested in the tank on Wed afternoon the comparatively large sum of £2,100, representing a sum of £2,800 in War Certificates. Penybont School, log book (EM10/11)

The Council met again on the 25th of June 1918, after the tank had visited:

It was resolved that the thanks of the council be given to the Chairman, Mr Hitt, in connection with the great success of the Tank visit. Bridgend Urban District Council, minutes (UDBR/C/1/13)

Three days after visiting Bridgend and Ogmore, Egbert was visiting Caerphilly:

Visit of the Tank-“Egbert” to Caerphilly with the object of raising £100,000 for the purpose of the great war. The schools of the town were closed to celebrate the event. Caerphilly Girls School, log book (ECG13/3)

It would appear that Egbert also visited Bargoed:

The clerk stated that he had received official intimation that the date of the Tank’s visit had now been fixed for July 5th and 6th, two days at Bargoed, and that the Model Tanks would be at Ystrad Mynach, Bedlinog and Pontlottyn on the same dates. Gelligaer Urban District Council, minutes (UDG/C/1/13)

You can learn more about the Tank Banks at:



Andrew Booth, Relief Records Assistant

Exploring the First World War using Parish Records

Parish records held at the Glamorgan Archives are a treasure trove of information both for local and family historians.

They are currently being examined in detail for information on the First World War, and are providing a fascinating insight into attitudes towards the War, as well as a glimpse of how life at home continued with the constraints and sorrows of the time.

The amount of detail in the minutes differs enormously between parishes; some are extremely brief with little detail and in some cases no mention of the War. Others reflect the major local issues of the time. The creation and management of allotments figure hugely in many of the minutes:

  • where should they be located?
  • how do they obtain the land particularly if the owner is not amenable?
  • how do they allocate the holdings?

Once these issues have been resolved there are the continual management problems such as allotment holders not looking after their plots properly, fences needing repair, rent collection, rent not being paid on time and re-allocating plots. As the war progressed and German submarines sank more ships carrying food stuff to Britain, the necessity of growing as much as possible became imperative with more land being taken, although in some areas the requests for allotments still outstripped supply.

Other matters that the parish dealt with included the state of the roads and street lighting, or lack of it. These issues had to be taken up with the District or County Councils, with notes of correspondence appearing for many months in the minutes.

Because of the fear of air raids, many parishes set up their own fire brigades and the minutes illustrate the processes of obtaining their own fire engine or sharing with a neighbouring parish, and finding volunteers to man the pumps.

Another source of less formal information are the Parish Magazines. Often commencing with the Vicar’s view of the current situation of the war and how the faithful should deal with it, they contain details of extra services and perhaps exhortations to keep chickens, eat less and grow more food. They then move on to local activities often connected to the war effort, such as collecting eggs and the Ladies knitting ‘comforts’ for the wounded, the War Savings Association and the Guides’ paper collection.

At the beginning of the war there are sometimes amusing notes. Roath believed that the cricket team lost so many matches because their best players had volunteered for military service.

Sadly there are notices of missing husbands and sons. Although some are later found wounded, many died for their King and Country and there are sad memorials of their life and death, particularly poignant when many were so young.

There are also records of more normal activities such as jumble sales, meetings of the Mothers’ Union, where they knitted socks and made sandbags, the Needlework Guild, Girl Guides, Brownies and the Girls Friendly Society.

Parish records of all types are full of the names of local people and their activities, but can often be overlooked by researchers. Come to Glamorgan Archives and you may be surprised at what you will find.