Belfast Telegraph

Monday 29 December 2014

Report unveils women's war drinking

Critics were shocked by the extent of women's drinking during the First World War
Critics were shocked by the extent of women's drinking during the First World War

Women's drinking was so bad during the First World War critics likened them to prostitutes, researchers have found.

While the men were away dying in their thousands, many women hit the alehouse to deal with the agony of the age.

Now, for the first time, a picture has emerged of the enthusiasm with which the ladies put away the alcohol - and the chauvinistic attitude which aimed to punish and prevent them.

Through old newspapers available to search online at family history website Genes Reunited, the true extent of the indignation at the sight of women filling the alehouses across the country has been discovered.

In 1915, the Manchester Evening News reported that a member of the county magistrates, Mr Theophilus Simpson, was shocked to count "26 women enter a licensed house in ten minutes, with 16 coming out who he had not seen enter."

He likened this type of behaviour to that of a prostitute.

Mr Simpson added: "Some people said women have a right to spend their money as they liked; they might as well say that they had a right to sell themselves if they like."

In 1916 the matter was debated at the Bootle Licensing Magistrates and the Liverpool Echo reported that a Captain Oversby said: "In the opinion of the committee, the great increase in the number of women visiting public-houses during the past year has demanded drastic treatment."

A number of different measures were discussed by the Licensing Magistrates to stop women visiting the public houses, including a refurbishment of all public houses.

"All licensed houses to be provided with clear plate-glass windows; partitions, snugs and other obstacles likely to facilitate secret drinking, be done away with," it added.

Having control of the finances seems to have enabled the women to socialise more.

In 1914 the Aberdeen Journal reported: "Having more money in their hands than usual, there were only too many ready to help them to spend it in the wrong way."

Rhoda Breakell, head of Genes Reunited, said: '' Despite the negative press, women continued to enjoy themselves in the pubs.

"Looking through the records on Genes Reunited can provide a great insight into social history, shedding light on how much things have changed for all of us in a comparatively short space of time."

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