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International Women's Day8th March 2024

International Women’s Day

International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. This year’s theme is Inspire Inclusion.

This IWD, we take a look at the impact that women have had on The Dockyard over the years and how Chatham Dockyard helped to drive forward equality across all Naval Dockyards in Great Britain.

From the women of the Spinning Rooms and Sail & Colour Loft, to tales of stowaways or women masquerading as men there is an extraordinary lasting legacy of women at Chatham.

Hidden Heroines

The online exhibition Hidden Heroines explores the stories of women at The Dockyard. In April 1803, The Navy Board granted permission for the first female workers to be recruited to the dockyard. The workers were needed to repair the flags of ships returning from the French Revolutionary War (1793-1803).

Chatham was the first Naval Dockyard in the country to have female workers. Two years later, the remaining five Royal Naval Dockyards (Deptford, Portsmouth, Plymouth, Sheerness & Woolwich) followed suit.

For the next 61 years, women worked at Chatham Dockyard alongside the sailmakers. They were sewing, repairing and manufacturing all the textile items.

In 1864, The Ropery introduced steam-powered yarn spinning machines and women were recruited to operate them. By 1875, over 100 women were employed.

Women’s employment at The Dockyard took a dramatic turn in 1914 with the outbreak of the First World War. During this time, women were employed in warship construction and repair for the first time. By 1916, over 2000 women were employed to replace Dockyard men who had volunteered for active service.

The Dockyard and the Navy relied on women in the workforce even more during the Second World War.

Until the outbreak of war women faced the same restraints and limitations in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that they faced in their everyday life: lack of autonomy, support, recognition, and lack of educational opportunities. It was not until the 1975 Sex Discrimination Act when it became illegal to discriminate against women in employment, education, and training.

The 1975 Act also allowed women to take out a current account in their name, as well as apply for a credit card or loan and enabled females to apply for apprenticeships and follow a career in roles they would never have had access to before.

Women of Today

In 2024, there is a vibrant and active female workforce at The Historic Dockyard Chatham.


Volunteer Stories

Read about the different roles that women are involved in at The Dockyard and discover the impact that they are having.

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