The Women’s ‘Great War’ – The Girl’s Own Annual 1916

by Victoria Madden

This is something I’ve had in mind since posting some extracts from the Girl’s Own Annual over the Christmas period. I initially thought it might be fun to look at what was of interest to women this time a hundred years ago but, with all the centenary commemorations of military events going on this year, it seems important to look at how the progress of the Great War affected the ordinary woman and her contribution towards it. Having just discovered, after nearly six years of ownership, that my little photocopier/printer is also a scanner, I should be able to add in the pictures – though working out how to embed these into the text may take some time.

The format of the Girl’s Own Annual is a bound collection of early twentieth century monthly magazines, The Girl’s Own Paper and Woman’s Magazine, running from October one year to August/September the next, presumably so it could be printed and in the shops in time for the Christmas gift market. Each magazine consists of several short stories; instalments of a serial story; practical advice on issues likely to affect women of the time and on pursuing hobbies, such as sketching or reading; articles that encourage an appreciation of the natural world; and an Editor’s Page, all interspersed with shorter pieces that give moral and/or religious encouragement or ‘thoughts for the day’. It’s copiously illustrated with line drawings and some photographs, and a large colour picture is often included, that can be removed and framed for those who can’t afford to buy ‘real’ pictures for their sittingrooms. Towards the back are articles giving advice, recipes and patterns for needlework, housekeeping, cookery and clothes.

The religious element is quite lighthanded, some of the stories are fun, and there’s a wealth of fascinating social detail for the historian. Articles on the progress of the War show, not just how it’s being handled as it affects the ordinary person, but how the realisation of the importance of women’s role in it slowly grows. The clothes patterns show how the fashions are changing month by month and the suggestions for needlework indicate a level of skill that is far beyond pretty much every girl in the country a hundred years later. (I also have a little book from the 1940s: Things a Boy Can Make with suggestions for carpentry projects for twelve year olds that would be beyond most twenty year olds today. But the deskilling of current generations is a whole other post.)

So, the plan is to scan in the articles that refer to women’s role in the War; the Editor’s Page, which usually has a commentary on this; the illustrations for the changing fashions and any other articles that seem especially interesting; and also do a little synopsis of the other articles and stories, for each month of this historically significant year. The idea is to build up a picture that parallels the (male) military experience of events and show how the women’s contribution underpinned various aspects of the time.

(I’ll be posting each issue in three parts as otherwise it’ll be far too long.)

January  – Part One