British Widows of the South African War and the Origins of War Widows' Pensions

TitleBritish Widows of the South African War and the Origins of War Widows' Pensions
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsRiedi, Eliza
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Pagination169 - 198
Date Published06/2018

The South African War of 1899-1902 cost the lives of 22,000 British and colonial soldiers and created almost 5,000 British war widows. It was in this context that the first state pensions for the widows of rank and file soldiers were introduced in 1901. Triggered by unexpectedly high casualty rates and widespread dissatisfaction with charitable provision, the introduction of state pensions also reflected changing public attitudes towards soldiers and their dependants in the context of an imperial war. Dismissed in the historiography as insignificant because of its low rates and restrictive eligibility clauses, the 1901 scheme in fact delivered pensions to the majority of war widows and made the Edwardian state their most important source of financial support. This article, after discussing the social and political context in which widows' pensions were developed, analyses the economics of the scheme and how key eligibility rules were formulated, before investigating significant changes in the scheme to 1920, the point at which Boer War widows were finally granted full maintenance. Strongly influenced by the practices of Victorian armed forces charities and by contemporary ideologies of gender and class, the South African War pension regulations created precedents which would continue to shape pensions for military widows to the end of the twentieth century. [From the Author]

Short TitleTwentieth Century British History
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