A century of women's employment in clerical occupations, 1850-1950 : with particular reference to the role of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women
The study set out to answer two main questions: (a) what was the role of the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW) - an organisation founded in 1859, still in existence today, but now known as the Society for Promoting the Training of Women (SPTW), in the evolution of clerical work as a suitable occupation for women; and (b) what continuities or discontinuities with nineteenth-century office employment could be identified in the experiences of women employed as clerical workers during the first half of the twentieth century? To answer the first question the author examined the archives of SPEW which are lodged at Girton College, Cambridge. The second question was addressed by contacting a small sample of women, the majority born between 1903 and 1925, who were willing to be questioned about their experiences of office work during the inter-war years. The research used a mixture of historiographic (archival analysis) and sociological (empirical) enquiry. It established that SPEW had played a pivotal role in opening up clerical employment to women; and demonstrated that early twentieth-century women had not capitalised on the efforts of those first-wave feminists even though office work was by then a major destination for women. Informants reported unequal pay, segregated workplaces, strictly-regulated social mores, and a patriarchal structure where women were concentrated in lower-level posts. These informants were content to view marriage and motherhood as their main 'career' in life. Chapters 1 and 2 describe the author's background, including how her interest in the research topic developed, the rationale for the research, and the ways in which the study was carried out. Building on previous research, the following two chapters establish the historical framework, the founding of SPEW, its members' links with the Langham Place circle, and the practical activities in which the Society was engaged. Chapter 5 describes the range of women's white-collar employment during the period under review. Chapter 6 presents empirical data relating to the sample of 21 twentieth-century women, and finally Chapter 7 reflects on the ways in which the research evolved, comparing the evidence from the two eras, and suggests further possibilities for research.