Young Women, Work, and Family in England 1918-1950

Young women, work, and family in England, 1918-1950
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During the period between and , however, factory employment expanded and changed. The textile industry had been the largest industrial employer of women prior to the First World War. Young women in those areas where it was concentrated, such as Lancashire, could earn relatively high wages and it was often possible to acquire skilled employment in early adulthood.

Between the s and the s, textile employment declined, but other forms of industrial work expanded, across a greater number of regions. Young women were in demand as unskilled and semiskilled workers. Their work was frequently heavy and unmechanized, demonstrating that the rate of technological change in industrial workplaces should not be overstated. At the Ferranti factory where Lucy Lees was employed in the late s, the roof was so dilapidated that bird droppings fell on the workers below. While larger, more modern factories frequently had better sanitation and welfare provision, working conditions could be pressurized.

The New Survey of London noted in that A great proportion of the additional labour which has recently entered the metalworking trades, and the larger part especially of female labour, is engaged on what are virtually new industries, rendered possible on a large scale by the invention of mass-production processes and through the use of machinery and female labour.

This type of work could be monotonous, but also stressful. Young Women and Work 39 conveyor belts or timed piecework.

Historian and writer

The speed-up is awful. Much of the interwar increase in retail work was accounted for by the expansion in department and multiple stores. These shops kept production costs and prices low by offering a wide variety of cheap products, and by employing young, female assistants. Young Women and Work 41 shops. War, and the limited ability of working class families to engage in luxury consumption prior to the late s, restricted labour demand. Many workers were paid an incentive bonus for each sale. Carr-Saunders et al.

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In the late s the Social Survey of Merseyside recorded an average weekly wage among women clerks under 20 of just 15s 6d; in London juvenile girl clerks earned on average 17s 6d per week. Its respectability was heightened by its cleanliness and its tradition of employing middle class women and, in the higher grades, middle class men. Anderson ed. Young Women and Work 43 skirt. Unemployment While employment opportunities expanded over this period, fear of unemployment remained real for many young women, particularly prior to the Second World War.

Youth unemployment has been overlooked by many historians, since young women and men, particularly juveniles, experienced much lower levels of unemployment than adults. Unemployment peaked at 7 per cent for and year-old girls in and 8. Moreover, the short duration of juvenile unemployment indicates that, as Beveridge found, what distinguished girls and boys from adults was not lower probability of losing a job but greater probability of obtaining a new one, indicating the short term and insecure nature of much of their work.

Eichengreen and T. Hatton eds. Beveridge, Unemployment: A Problem of Industry, 2nd edn. London: Longmans, , Some commentators claimed that it was frictional, caused by juveniles leaving jobs voluntarily, and that many girls registered as unemployed were in fact unpaid domestic helpers in the home. About 30 per cent of registrations by unemployed girls and boys at the Bureaux were re-registrations throughout the years to , suggesting that many juveniles experienced one or two spells of short-duration unemployment, often occurring after the age of 16, and a smaller proportion experienced far more frequent unemployment.

Fowler claims that there is no evidence that vulnerability to unemployment increased with age and wage rises. Benjamin and L. Owen et al. Beales and R. Lambert eds. Young Women and Work 45 insurable and those in uninsurable industries. In the decade following the Unemployment Act, and year-old girls were paid 6s per week and then, following the Unemployment Act, 5s, whereas boys were paid 7s 6d and then 6s.

Married women and young men were also cheap workers. Heim, and more emphatically Savage and Scott, have pointed out that young workers of both sexes were cheaper than adult women in most sectors. However, the nature of their work attracted relatively little concern. Cadbury, M. Matheson, and G. Unwin, , —5. Tauris, , 44—5. The major political parties and most sections of middle class opinion viewed domestic service as a favourable alternative to less secure work and viewed it as training for marriage and motherhood. Historians and sociologists have frequently ascribed trends in labour demand for women primarily to their gender.

Juvenile workers were often excluded from trade unions, and thus from wage agreements. Reed et al. Young Women and Work 49 assumed by employers to make them a more docile and malleable section of the workforce. Yet most important in constructing young people as a cheap and disposable workforce was their position as dependants within the nuclear family household. This, of course, made them highly suitable for casual and part-time work.

In , several local education authorities in the prosperous south-east informed the Ministry of Labour that it was inadvisable for the young unemployed to migrate to their districts in search of work, since the new industries providing local employment relied on paying juveniles and young women wages below subsistence level, assuming parental support.

Long-standing social and cultural factors shaped norms to which employers adhered.

Young women, work and family in England 1918–1950 – Selina Todd

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Young Women and Work 51 Savage and Scott found that employers in capital-intensive industries preferred young men, who were likely to work until retirement age. In areas like north-west Lancashire, many women worked after marriage throughout this period, as a consequence of low male wages and high labour demand in the textile industry.

In teaching, where labour demand was still adequately met by the male workforce, and demand for part-time labour was low, the marriage bar remained. Employers promoted a correlation of femininity with domesticity only when it met their requirements. Lancaster and T. Mason eds. Conversely, young women remained a valuable source of labour for more secure, unskilled and semiskilled labour-intensive industrial and retail work, and, increasingly, as typists and low-grade clerks.

When their employment opportunities did expand due to rising labour demand in the s, some employers clearly preferred to engage married women who were less likely to be occupationally mobile, as Cohn found was increasingly true of many clerical employers by the late s. Conclusion The period between and was one of great transition for young women.

Moreover, these workers constituted a central, rather than a peripheral, section of the workforce in a range of occupational sectors and were affected by and in turn helped to shape the changing nature of work within these. Moreover, young women continued to be valued as a cheap, ultimately disposable labour supply in all of the sectors that employed them.

It therefore often happens that young girls are working in factories, private domestic service, shops and laundries, and using their small wage to support their parents. It is not always easy, even for generous and exploitable adolescence, to shoulder the adult burden of responsibility.

Young women, who were less likely to be unemployed than their fathers, consequently often found their economic responsibilities greatly increased. Other young women remained unoccupied, in order to help their mothers with domestic responsibilities. The changes wrought in the working class standard of living by unemployment, particularly among adult males, in the late s and early s; increases in state welfare, particularly during the s; rising wages; and a decline in average family size from 2.

In doing so the chapter offers a fresh perspective on the working class standard of living between and , arguing that poverty remained central to the life experience of many, but that young wage-earners were also crucial in expanding working class leisure and luxury consumption. Halsey and J. Webb eds. Horrell and D. Horrell and J. Juvenile girls are the focus, since the census offers detailed records of their employment at local level.

In rural communities, limited employment for women increased reliance on male breadwinners. Northumbrian communities remained heavily reliant upon agriculture and mining for adult employment throughout this period; in , 34 per cent of men were employed as miners and 10 per cent in agriculture.

Traditionally, miners enjoyed relatively high wages, and this, together with a lack of alternative local industrial employment, increased reliance upon male breadwinning; just 7 per cent of women were engaged in paid employment in , and 43 per cent of girls compared with 78 per cent of boys. Baines and P. Earning a Living Davidoff et al. Earning a Living 61 overcrowded households. The importance of this during periods of high unemployment is demonstrated by the decline in the proportions of Northumbrian girls who were unoccupied or employed as clerks between and , and the corresponding increase in domestic servants.

Yet the increase in the proportion of occupied girls was even more dramatic, rising by 30 to 73 per cent, emphasizing the importance of the war and its aftermath for rural young women. This pattern prevailed in many Lancashire textile towns, like Blackburn. In the interwar years the largest employers of men were the textile industry 22 per cent in and labouring and unskilled work 17 per cent —low-waged occupations. Consequently, 62 per cent of women and 79 per cent of both girls and boys were in the labour force in Although textile employment for girls declined following the First World War, it continued to be their largest employer throughout the period, as Figure 3 shows.

Low male wages and high labour demand meant that many young women expected to remain in full-time employment after marriage.

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Young textile workers were vulnerable to unemployment in the late s and early s, but the fact that they had to work for economic reasons is highlighted by the concurrent increase in the proportion employed in personal service most as domestic servants , from 2 per cent in to 6 per cent in So I went down to—what did they call it—Junior [Employment] Exchange. And they found me a job with—a woman, looking after her family—service. This is demonstrated by the decline in the proportion of occupied girls from 79 to 73 per cent between and This was not true of boys, whose labour force participation remained static at 79 per cent, or of adult women, whose labour force participation rose from 62 to 68 per cent.

Boys, on the other hand, could get secure and skilled employment by entering an engineering apprenticeship, which increased in availability. However, entry to the metal industry was largely restricted to apprenticeships, generally limited to boys aged 15 or Figure 4 demonstrates that between and the labour force participation of Coventry girls rose dramatically, from 46 to 78 per cent, largely because of expanding earning opportunities in industry and retail work from the mid s.

Earning a Living 65 because lucrative and secure employment was available for those who left school at Mary Collins, the daughter of a skilled factory worker, recalled of her youth in Manchester during the Second World War: I worked in Hawker Siddeley, my father was a bus-driver, I was only He had to do compulsory overtime, I had to do a 12 hour shift, we used to compare wages. We were having races and I used to feel sorry for my dad because I was earning perhaps a shilling or two more than he was, it was a great boon.

The data provided on London differ from those presented on the provincial areas discussed previously. The computerized dataset of the New Survey of London is used to provide a snapshot of working class occupational distribution across 26, over 2 per cent of working class households in thiry-eight London boroughs between and These data enable an analysis to be made of wage-earners according to their family position, as daughters or as heads of the household for example, rather than simply on the basis of their age and gender. However, its wide coverage means that comparisons can also be made with the census returns for the same districts, and these data are presented in Figure 5.

While 10 per cent of male heads of household enumerated by the New Survey of London were employed in the metal industry, and 48 per cent altogether were employed on skilled work, 29 per cent were unskilled workers, most commonly as labourers employed on casual, insecure work in the transport and communications sector. Between and , boys could earn relatively high wages as either metal workers 8 per cent , clerical workers 8 per cent , or in blind alley, but relatively well-paid, jobs in transport and communications 30 per cent.

This led employers in the growth industries to employ girls on lucrative and relatively secure semiskilled work. Thirty-four per cent of girls were thus employed, mainly in the expanding metal and food-processing trades. Most secondary schools charged fees before Under 7 per cent of 15 to 18 year olds attended school in the interwar years. Since grammar schools were generally in middle class suburbs, transport costs were another important consideration.

We were short of money, and he considered that lads would need the education more than a girl. Halsey, British Social Trends since , 2nd edn. Basingstoke: Macmillan, , Schooling is different for her brother, of course, because he has his living to make for always. The Censuses of and enable such an analysis. As Figure 6 shows, across England as a whole, 24 and 26 per cent of year-old girls and boys, respectively, were in full-time education in , suggesting that boys were slightly more likely to have their schooling extended, probably as a result of their longer working lives.

However, regional variation was marked. In Blackburn, the converse was true. Percentage of 14 year olds in full-time education, England and selected localities, , and percentage of 15 year olds in full-time education, England and selected localities, Source: Census, Occupation Tables, Table 18; Census, Occupation Tables, Table These developments, together with the prominence of young women as war workers, and the Education Act, shaped an attitudinal shift towards an acceptance of the equal value of education for boys and girls.

Hilda Fielding believed that this cultural change meant that her younger sister had far less of a struggle to obtain further education in the late s than she herself had faced ten years earlier. The extent of consensus between husbands and wives over the allocation of education should not be overemphasized. Young and Wilmott noted that in s Bethnal Green, mothers provided far greater encouragement than most fathers to daughters who passed their eleven-plus exam for grammar school. Many juggled the household budget or went out to work to fund educational expenses that their husbands could not or would not meet.

The issue, this Saturday afternoon, is the blouses that I will have to wear. Earning a Living 71 denied a secondary education in the pre years, their daughters often became a repository for their thwarted ambitions. As a consequence, they more frequently looked for avenues of escape.

Older children, who were often expected to begin earning as early as possible to help to maintain younger siblings, were particularly disadvantaged. Because I was the oldest girl. For many girls and boys, the restrictions placed on their schooling served as a powerful realization of the limitations imposed by poverty. Gordon and E.

Breitenbach eds. I were clerically minded. Earning a Living: From Schoolgirl to Breadwinner By the time they left school, young women were clearly aware of the importance of their earnings to the household. This realization was heightened for many children not only by the limitations that poverty placed on their educational opportunities, but also by their need to begin earning while still at school.

Nevertheless, throughout our period, and particularly prior to the Second World War, it was not uncommon for schoolchildren to undertake some paid work, particularly if they came from poorer households. Lifetimes, Something in Common, Fowler, First Teenagers, Added to this was, for most young women, the awareness that, unlike their brothers, they would probably leave paid work in early adulthood. Later I got half a crown a week when I earned a bit more money, spending money.

Earning a Living 75 Contributing to the family economy continued until young people left home, although workers in their late teens and early twenties were often allowed to retain their earnings, paying board and lodging from these. Linda Thew, who left school in the early s, was aware that just ten years earlier domestic service would have been the only employment open to her, and welcomed the additional freedom but also ability to make a substantial contribution to the family home that her job as a shop assistant allowed her.

Wage-Earning and the Family Economy The contribution that daughters were expected to make to the family economy was shaped by several factors. However, large families in particular remained vulnerable to poverty. Bowley and M. Hogg, Has Poverty Diminished? London: P. King and Son, , 12— See Davies, Leisure, 14—29 for a discussion of measurements of poverty, — Gazeley, Poverty in Britain, — London: Palgrave, , —58, offers a comprehensive summary of these changes. See also Paneth, Branch Street, 36—7. The major causes of interwar poverty—adult male unemployment and low pay—raised the importance of other household wage-earners.

Gender between the Wars

Despite the eradication of unemployment and a rise in earnings during the s, young wage-earners remained important to working class households. There was eight of us. See also Ford, Southampton, However, in households where male earnings did not require substantial supplement, the converse was often true, with daughters being expected to take over the role of domestic manager when a mother was ill or absent.

As the oldest daughter in her family of six, Grace Foakes was expected to leave work to keep house at the age of 15, when her mother became an invalid in the early s. A lack of well-paid jobs in the district made this a more rational choice than entering full-time work. Young men often bore the brunt of this. Eleven per cent of households in the New Survey of London were headed by males other than a husband and father, including sons.

In the aftermath of the First World War, Rowntree and Stuart carried out an extensive study of 13, wage-earning women across 67, households in eleven towns. Cameron, A. Lush, and G. Constable, , 60—2; Rowntree, Poverty and Progress, —9; L. Earning a Living 81 responsibility for dependants was the death of their father, accounting for 53 per cent of cases. Consequently, young earners continued to be important to families lacking an employed male head. Rowntree and F. The rise in the working class standard of living from the mids is frequently viewed as diminishing the importance of young wage-earners to the family economy, but their earnings were in fact largely responsible for the increase in working class leisure and luxury consumption.

She recalled that at the age of Mother still had my wage packet, and that was half a crown a week, I know, because the family then would probably be feeling a little bit better off because my eldest brother would then be at work. Probably there would be a jelly or something like that. The economic recovery meant that by , Bowley recorded the average weekly income of working class families as 76s.

Young wage-earners were thus crucial in increasing working class consumption of such luxuries as the wireless, which achieved mass ownership by the outbreak of the Second World War, or even renting or buying a new home. See also White, Worst Street, — Most working class households depended on two or more earners, and young women were increasingly prominent among these.

This had repercussions for the value placed on their education and training by many families. Nevertheless, the working class experience of youth was increasingly homogeneous, largely due to the increasing likelihood that young women would enter the workforce, and would not become domestic servants. In doing so, it explores their relations with family, community, and the state; engages with ongoing debates about the nature of intergenerational occupational and social mobility; and examines the changing role of work in social class formation between and Social class composition and identity are highly contested entities.

They have convincingly argued that the study of the social distance travelled as a result of intergenerational occupational mobility can shed more light on class homogeneity or heterogeneity than simply the existence of mobility per se. Although studies of male mobility often assume a clear social division between manual occupations, considered working class, and non-manual occupations, categorized as middle class, the occupational hierarchy was in reality more complex.

The sexual division of labour that characterized most regional labour markets prevented much direct occupational continuity between fathers and daughters. Lawrence, , 64—7. Payne and P. Goldthorpe with C. In doing so, it argues that the existence of intergenerational occupational mobility does not necessarily signify a weakening of family and community ties. Increasing state intervention in the juvenile labour market offers a wealth of material, which is drawn on in the discussions of the changing roles of education and of employment exchanges that structure the second and third sections of this chapter.

The overlapping functions of the Ministry and Local Authorities was a cause of administrative confusion and some tension, leading to the establishment of the National Advisory Council for Juvenile Employment in to co-ordinate local Committees. One hundred and eighty Committees were recorded in England and Wales in All of them produced regular reports drawn on here.

Intergenerational Occupational Continuity Direct occupational continuity was, even in the s, limited to certain skilled trades and to areas dominated by just one or two industries. Entering Employment 89 woman in my sample who entered the clothing and textile trades. However, declining demand for skilled workers in industries such as textiles meant that occupational continuity was often an expression of limited employment choice, rather than skill preservation.

In , for example, Amy Cowie entered the mill where her mother worked, due to a lack of other options. In Northumberland, girls continued to enter the same occupation their mothers had followed in their youth— domestic service. It was a trend characteristic of many rural communities. Cowie, This does not, however, prove that social mobility was also rising.

Studies of males suggest that intergenerational occupational mobility was a long-term characteristic of the youth labour market, but that movement was constrained by class background. In the industrial areas, as chapter 2 pointed out, many continued to enter casual, unskilled work after leaving school, prior to competing for an apprenticeship in a skilled trade at the age of 15 or Opportunities for social mobility were thus clearly very limited. Thanks to Alun Howkins for this reference. Entering Employment 91 social mobility were also restricted.

Miles and D. Vincent eds. On this point see B. Roberts noted that rural women were increasingly able to place their daughters in occupations other than domestic service during the interwar years. Those women who entered employment during the early s often expressed an awareness of expanding job opportunities, similar to that articulated by the women who had begun work in the aftermath of the First World War.

Up to the war, everyone left school at 14 and in this district went in the cotton mill.

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This fascinating account of young women's lives challenges existing assumptions about working class life and womanhood in England. This fascinating account of young women's lives challenges existing assumptions about working class life and womanhood in England between the end of the.

But then the war started, we were 16 and we fancied it, kind of thing. Hunt and A. Davies and S. Fielding eds. Payne, J. Payne, and T. Entering Employment 93 changes in British industry, and the attraction of young women as a cheap labour supply for semiskilled or lower-grade non-manual work, meant that by the s they were increasingly likely to enter employment different to that of mothers who had begun work in the s. Even in the more buoyant areas, a noticeable distinction in employment opportunities existed between the girls from non-manual and those from manual backgrounds, and between the daughters of skilled-manual and unskilled-manual workers.

Girls from poorer families, and those commuting into the city from poorer northern towns, were employed in the clothing trade or as domestic servants. Butler, Domestic Service, reprint of edn. London: Garland, , 73; P. Mass-Observation investigations recorded that throughout the war the majority of female factory operatives were from unskilled or semiskilled manual backgrounds whereas clerks tended to be recruited from households headed by a skilled-manual or nonmanual worker.

White has noted that coming from a street or family known to be very poor or to accommodate criminals could greatly disadvantage young people in the interwar labour market, and that these were generally the children of unskilled, casual workers. See also Klingender, Clerical Labour, 58— Table 5. When she left school in My father, he was training special constables. And I had always wanted to work in a shoe shop so my father talked to him and he said bring her along for an interview.

Everyone wanted girls to use their hands, not brains, and it never occurred to my poor Mum that we were in the wrong area. An increasing number attended the conferences and meetings organized by local Juvenile Employment Advisory Committees. Marion Kent was clear that domestic servants had to bring their mothers to interviews so that prospective employers could assess their social background, trustworthiness, and cleanliness, a conclusion supported by other servants.

It was a family affair sort of thing, and er, Jack Edwards spoke and said, saw someone and I went and I got the job in the Leaf Room. Entering Employment 99 in the s. Amy Cowie, who entered employment in , recalled: I always wanted to work at Woolworths. High unemployment in the early s and early s adversely affected occupational mobility, with employers frequently giving preference to the children of existing workers or favoured employees or customers when the supply of young workers exceeded demand. A survey of Becontree and Dagenham in the s found that parents were reluctant to let girls incur travel costs to and from work, particularly as relatively lucrative shop work was available locally.

Young, Becontree and Dagenham London: S. Sidders and Son, , Education By the end of the First World War, elementary education had been compulsory for almost 50 years. As long as they said you were on the level, that was all that mattered.

And, er, you would probably get—they would pick the cream of the class—like they do now! And they forget that other people—you had to go where you could get a job! Mabel Morrison is a pseudonym. It is impossible to use existing quantitative data to test the hypothesis that secondary education improved occupational choice. Moreover, conclusions based on London, where educational participation was relatively high, cannot be applied to other areas.

The Census can, however, offer some insight into the effects of extended education on occupation, by providing a national snapshot of occupational distribution and educational participation. This indicates that a combination of advancing age, extended education, and social background affected job prospects. Neither did I want to leave school. Higher grade clerical posts continued to be a largely male preserve, and although demand for school teachers rose after the Second World War, opportunities continued to be greater for men, since educational expansion was concentrated in the male-dominated secondary sector.

Baines and Johnson convincingly argue that the prospects of juveniles from skilled manual backgrounds were enhanced by additional schooling more than those of the lower classes. Wilkins noted that clerical employers preferred former grammar school pupils. Many viewed school subjects as an irrelevance. Entering Employment economic pressures that the family economy exerted upon most working class girls and the ethos of formal education, which was clearly designed to prepare working class pupils for the job market.

Wilkins found that young men were more likely than young women to view their education as vocationally valuable, since the subjects taught correlated with the skills required by some of the skilled manual occupations they hoped to enter. What they wanted you to learn was domestic work. Over the past 40 years the narrative of upward social mobility through selective secondary education has characterized a large proportion of working class male autobiographies.

Central Schools were vocational secondaries. Heron ed. We had always done things together; and when she offered me a threepence pocket money, I felt dreadful. I was afraid she would gang up on me with Eva [their older sister], who kept making comments about me being kept as a lady by her. Directed to Work: The State and Employment Many more young women came into contact with state employment exchanges and bureaux than attended selective secondary schools. Entering Employment through the extension of JEBs.

This was increasingly accepted during the s, as wartime production necessitated the training and direction of labour. The nature of labour demand, which sustained the use of young workers in poorly paid, insecure posts, was left largely untouched. The effects of state employment guidance and direction were extremely limited prior to the depression of the early s, but subsequently expanded.

Girls, who were less likely to experience direct occupational continuity than boys, were consequently more receptive to using the state as a means of obtaining work. The Ministry of Labour noted that this was particularly the case among young women, who used the Bureaux to locate jobs that were opening up in sectors with which their families were unfamiliar. Caradog Jones, Merseyside, 3, —4.

Ministry of Labour, Report on Juvenile Employment. Entering Employment had to grasp at almost any job, blind alley or otherwise, rather than be unemployed. Parents—and employers—preferred to rely on traditional recruitment strategies, particularly outside the largest urban conurbations. In their search for new employment opportunities, young women were more likely to turn to relatives and friends than to the Bureaux or careers adviser.

Hostility increased when a labour transference scheme was established by the government in This placed pressure on unemployed juveniles to migrate to work— particularly girls, who could be used to meet demand for servants. In the early s young women questioned by Mass-Observation expressed suspicion of interfering and incompetent Bureaux personnel. They are apt to think of it in connection with unemployment rather than employment. Moreover, although more girls than boys sought, and used, employment guidance, particularly after unemployment began to fall from the mids, the choices with which they were presented were constrained by gender.

Either be a secretary, he said, or, better still, go into a factory. This was, as many young women recognized, an approach that continued to discriminate by gender and class. Family and neighbourhood networks remained strong between and State provision of employment guidance upheld, rather than challenged, existing class and gender divisions in the labour market and in particular the use of young, working class women as cheap and disposable workers. They witnessed greater expansion in their employment opportunities and experienced a greater degree of occupational and social mobility than young men.

Social investigators, and women themselves, were conscious that a generational shift had occurred between the s and the s, and that another occurred between the s and the s. The focus of the book now turns directly to young women themselves: their choices, aspirations, and identity.

In fact, many working class girls left home at an early age to enter domestic service or, by the s, industrial work elsewhere. King and Son, Mobility, Migration, and Aspiration adulthood, when mobility declined. This did not threaten perceived notions of class formation, or change dramatically prior to the s. The concern provoked by these changes emphasizes their rapidity and highlights the importance of the economic context in shaping the interwar anxiety over gendered and social identities that cultural historians have highlighted.

Prior to the mids, the former dominated. As chapter 1 pointed out, the rate of youth unemployment between the wars, together with its comparatively short duration, demonstrates that many young women experienced this form of involuntary mobility. Mrs Halliday, who began her working life as a laundry assistant, was one of many women to be forced to take a domestic service post in the early s when she was made unemployed. Thanks to Claire Langhamer for bringing this series to my attention. Beveridge, Unemployment: A Problem of Industry, 2nd ed.

London: Longman, , See also N. An increasing number of young women experienced voluntary occupational mobility, however. Prior to the mids, this was most evident among domestic servants. Labour demand for servants had outstripped supply since the nineteenth century, meaning that leaving a job, or threatening to, was the greatest power a servant possessed.

Press and government reports suggest that servants in general became more assertive during the interwar years, their awareness that demand for their labour outstripped supply encouraging them to initiate negotiation with employers. Her good work, and the servant shortage, meant that she secured a substantial wage rise and remained where she was. See also W. Young women changed jobs voluntarily for better pay or conditions, more congenial company, or more interesting work.

The importance they attributed to wages was a matter of concern for many social investigators and for the Ministry of Labour, who felt that this encouraged young people to enter highly paid but insecure jobs. Many had exhausted the avenues of employment open to them, and faced limited subsequent wage increases and few promotion prospects. A survey of 1, women in , for example, found that 30 per cent of those aged between 17 and 20 were reluctant to enter the Forces because of parental objections. The importance of friends was twofold. Betty Ferry was one of many young women to leave one job, in her case in the s, in order to work with friends employed at a different factory.

See also IWM, , interview with Anon. Gray ed. Eileen, who originally followed her mother into the clothing trade, changed jobs after being informed of a clerical vacancy by friends. So along we went and they took us on to start work on the next Monday. Occupational mobility was central to this. Jephcott, Rising Twenty, Wilkins, Adolescent, Hobbs, Struggle, Among my sample, the war was the most common reason given for leaving domestic service.

Mass-Observation noted a large number of former servants among those war factory workers it studied. The story of year-old Molly, who had previously worked at an isolated country house, was typical: Mrs B. So I wrote to her the other day, and I told her that for ruining my eyes, I do all my work here without looking at it.

It was cleaning your silver, I said, ruined my eyes. Jephcott noted in the mids that domestic service had ceased to be a large employer of young women in the northern communities she studied, because of the proliferation of retail and factory jobs. Ministry of Labour Gazette March , Mobility, Migration, and Aspiration also emerged. A desire for interesting and sociable work was by combined with a widespread wish to help the war effort.

That Monday morning I was utterly fed up and said as much to my workmates. A survey of 1, women in found least opposition to conscription among young, manual workers, with 84 per cent of 17 to 20 year olds being willing to undertake war work. A large number of women who worked at Newton Aycliffe Royal Ordnance Factory, situated in County Durham, where few women had previously undertaken industrial work, were negative about their experiences.

Whereas government literature implied the existence of a minority of serial, unemployable job-changers, who lacked discernment and commitment, social surveys suggest that most young women held less than four jobs prior to marriage between the s and the s. IWM, , interview with Anon. Mobility, Migration, and Aspiration Overall, boys and girls experienced similar levels of occupational mobility but this differed according to local demand. In Birmingham in the early s, girls were likely to experience greater mobility, probably because of the large number of apprenticeships open to boys in the motor industry.

Despite these important differences, young women and young men clearly shared some important characteristics in their early employment, being likely to change jobs more than once as juveniles, before becoming more settled in their later teens, as young men sought to establish themselves in a trade, while young women made the best of limited employment prospects, and both began to save for marriage. The employment pathways of my own sample suggest that domestic servants were most likely to enter other forms of service employment, or factory labour, than clerical or the more lucrative branches of retail work.

Another was leaving home. Very few young working class women could afford to leave home voluntarily during these years, since, as chapter 1 discussed, their low wages were grounded in the assumption that they were dependants within the parental home. Young women migrated at an earlier age than men, and the gender differential in outward migration from rural districts increased between and In the ratio of females to every hundred males for 15 to 20 year olds in England and Wales stood at , but at 86 in rural districts.

By the ratio was recorded as for England and Wales, but 71 for rural areas. However, the attractions of urban life were heightened by employment expansion and the growth of commercialized leisure during our period. Young women were central to this strategy. Young women were particularly important, with more girls being transferred than boys because they could be used as domestic servants. She used to earn 22s and give me 16s. Now she is on the dole and gets 15s and I get 13s out of it.

She does not eat 13s worth of food. Table 6. Correspondence between the Ministry of Labour and the Unemployment Assistance Board indicates that family allowances were indeed often reduced if a son or daughter was transferred. Owen at the Unemployment Assistance Board, March Mobility, Migration, and Aspiration points out, transference did not provide young workers with employment security.

The labour transference scheme ended when war began, but the scheme provided the basis for directing wartime labour. From April , all single women were considered available for labour transfer, with women from Scotland, Wales, and northern and north-eastern England being transferred to the Midlands, where munitions industries and aircraft manufacturers were concentrated. Continuity was thus established with older patterns of migration.

The extent of transference should not be exaggerated. The numbers of women involved are not available, but in the West Midlands engineering industry, in which the number of women workers increased by per cent between and September , just 10 per cent of new women workers had been transferred from other regions. Migration provided a minority of young women with the opportunity to leave an unhappy home life; this was true of 2 per cent of ATS members questioned in about why they had joined up.

Florence Rosenblatt was one of many women whose mothers would not let her take work away from home because she felt her daughter was, at 18, too young to live independently. Workers interviewed by Mass-Observation expressed great reluctance to leave home, some even fear. For many women, making friends from different social and geographical backgrounds was one of the most memorable aspects of the war. An investigation into the transference of young Scottish women to factories in the English Midlands found that one of the greatest causes of unhappiness was the isolation felt by those women who had no workmates from their home community.

Many of them were, by the s, used to a degree of commercial leisure consumption that was often impossible in rural districts. Social background was also important in shaping responses to transference. See also McKibbin, Classes and Cultures, Other occupational distinctions were more ambiguous. Employment traditions were important.

D thesis Warwick, , — Forster, Hidden Lives Harmondsworth: Penguin, , Servants were more likely than other workers to associate respectability with middle class values, around which they structured their social and domestic aspirations. Her own views on service demonstrate that respectability was to some degree malleable. I mean I can tell people that have been in very good service. Their expression of their own worth was centred on putting the skills and behaviour they learned as servants into practice as wives and mothers. As alternative employment opportunities expanded, the sexual division of labour shaped notions of respectable work for women in different ways.

By the s, shop work was considered respectable in small northern towns where factory work had long been a male preserve, whereas the expansion of clean, light manufacturing work in the south-east heightened the attractions of such jobs for both daughters and their mothers. The social composition of the workforce was nonetheless important. Janet, who grew up in a Nottinghamshire village in the s, wanted to become a shop assistant in a city centre store. One reason for the growing unpopularity of domestic service among young women was the isolation experienced by many workers and the lack of opportunity to meet men who were not poorly paid servants or delivery boys.

Whereas manual employment could reinforce working class masculinity, the relationship of femininity to the labour process was more problematic, raising the importance of social considerations. As White and Steedman have shown, women often engaged critically with working class family and community life, which held fewer consolations for them than for men. I did feel I wanted to be better. Histories of youth have tended to divorce the worlds of work and commercial consumption, foregrounding the latter in analyses of identity formation. However, they also articulated a realization of the limitations that social background placed upon them.

Many of those who began work in the s found that their aspirations, raised by employment expansion during the First World War, were thwarted by a post-war contraction of opportunities and by poverty. A large number articulated disappointment that the family economy had had to take precedence over their ambitions. Many domestic servants, including Lavinia Swainbank and Mrs Cleary, recognized that their occupation was primarily determined by lack of alternative employment and household poverty. She said, maybe you wonder why I never tried to get away from GEC.

Women who worked in the mid- and later s were more likely to partially realize their aspirations, and their narratives often present their lifestyle as the result of successfully struggling against the odds, while rationalizing the compromises they made. Hodge, The Long Weekend, 2nd edn. Harmondsworth: Penguin, Castle, The most popular and strongest aspiration, shared by girls and boys, was to travel. I used to work in a leather factory, making handbags, so I was used to factory work before I came here.

This type of intragenerational occupational mobility should be central, rather than peripheral, to our understanding of employment experience and class identity. This relationship between occupation and social status was more nuanced and less straightforward for young women than for men. If the place of occupational and social mobility in working class life is to be fully understood, a sophisticated and nuanced conceptualization of class is required.

These elements interacted to create a distinctive, gendered, and generational identity for young working class women. The ways that this identity forged and was in turn shaped by workplace relations is explored in chapter 5. Clearly, both offered a one-dimensional view of young women in the workplace, arising from the assumption that work played only a minor role in the lives and identities of this group. This chapter and the following one are directly concerned with refuting that assumption and with highlighting the complex relationship that young women forged with the workplace.

The domesticity model, common to labour historians, suggests that women workers failed to engage with workplace relations for example, through low trade union participation because they saw their futures as being outside the workplace. This division also enables a more nuanced approach than the previous models allow.

Humphries, Hooligans or Rebels? Willis, Learning to Labour Aldershot: Ashgate, Work Culture for employers as well as limited rights for many workers. As earlier chapters have shown, the young female workforce at the end of the First World War was concentrated largely in residential domestic service and, to a lesser extent, in the textile industry. Women who worked as secretaries were frequently in closer contact with their boss than with more junior workers and the work relations this forged, together with the relatively high social status of white collar work, meant that trade unionism remained low among clerks throughout this period.

Work Culture transgressed this, demonstrating that stoicism or an acceptance of the status quo cannot be interpreted as an abnegation of dignity. Repercussions were likely to take the form of covert acts of individual resistance rather than a collective response. The most drastic was resigning from a post, a well-established pattern of negotiation by the interwar years as chapter 4 noted. I do not agree. Exploitation applied much more to other workers. Girls sought advancement through domestic agencies, always asking for a bigger wage than they expected to get.

There was no need for a girl to stay where conditions were poor. The story emphasizes the importance of trust in the relationship between employers and servants. It was therefore bitterly resented. Barker, , Moreover, the servant in the story gets the better of her employer within the bounds of the deferential relationship. The oral tradition it highlights was itself a reaction to the subservience demanded by employers. Such anecdotes indicated to younger servants that certain transgressions were popularly condoned by other servants, and suggested means of negotiating the deferential relationship with their employers.

The telling of and listening to such stories provided an outlet for discontent with aspects of the employer—servant relationship.

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The Family and Workplace Culture Young women were socialized into work primarily by their family. Gramsci offers a model for understanding the complexities of socialization. Gramsci, Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. Hoare and G. Newell Smith London: Lawrence and Wishart, , — In many shops and factories, as at the shop where Marjorie Gardiner worked in interwar Brighton, women relied on their workmates covering for them while they took unauthorized breaks. Initiation rites emphatically introduced young workers into this structure. They were particularly common in male-dominated trades and in those sectors in which women were likely to remain in employment in adult life, signifying the long-term importance of the workplace in these contexts.

See also R. During the Second World War, similar feelings could also fracture the sense of unity that employers and government sought to promote. Their language was a bit strong. Gender Relations Gender relations within workplaces changed between the s and the s. Arthur Excell recalled that the foreman at Morris Motors intimidated young women who worked there, insisting they go out with him. Work Culture However, personal testimonies suggest that such antagonism was only one facet of gender relations, albeit an extremely important and often overlooked one.

Some young women, like Betty Ferry in the s and May Hobbs in the s, valued friendships with young male co-workers. The workplace, particularly when it employed a large number of adult as well as younger women, was more often a venue for social education than the parental home. Mary Welch, a leather worker, recalled of her London factory in the s: The machinists were nearly all married and middle aged.

I learned quite a lot about sex and marriage from the married women. But they were doing us a special favour. They talk about things that frighten me. The workplace became an increasingly important venue for courtship. As chapter 4 highlighted, the lack of opportunities to meet young men was one reason young women found domestic service unattractive, particularly as they entered their late teens.

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