Codebreaking: The Role of Women

During wartime, normal societal conventions can change. In the context of World War II, the needs of the country and the efficient deployment of people and resources was paramount in order to defeat the Nazis. At Bletchley Park, this meant having the most suitably qualified people involved in cracking German secret codes. The qualification for taking part was not based on your gender, class, ethnicity or sexuality. Instead, it was essential to have the best person for each job. It was against this back drop that many more women became involved in early digital computer developments than in the preceding peacetime.

“ All that mattered was breaking the code, not whether you were a man or a woman. ”

Michael Smith

Why were certain people chosen for certain jobs at Bletchley Park?

'Because of the constraints of the world, because so many people were away fighting, so many men. Because they needed women and because they needed to do the job and all that mattered here was breaking the codes; Bletchley Park saw equality between men and women, between the classes, between different people in every possible way. Whether they were gay, female or otherwise, long before society saw it! '

Teaching Points:

What opportunities did World War II offer to women that would not be possible during peacetime?

How did wartime demands on all sections of society promote greater equality of opportunity, regardless of gender, class, ethnicity or sexuality?