Sanitary ladies and friendly visitors : women public health officers in London, 1890-1930
This thesis examines women sanitary inspectors, health visitors and tuberculosis visitors (referred to collectively as women public health officers) in London from the 1890s to the 1920s. It uncovers who these women were, what they did, and their views and attitudes in certain key areas. Women employed in public health have often been implicated in historical accounts critical of the 'social control' of the state, and its failure to tackle structural social and economic reasons for poor health. This thesis challenges the assumption that these middle-class women were only, or merely, conduits through which an ideology of personal responsibility for health was imposed on the poor. Drawing on fresh source material about these particular women also provides new perspectives on the entry of women into the paid professions, and on the women's movement in general. Introductory chapters analyse the historiography, and outline the nineteenth century background: women's involvement in sanitary reform, voluntary visiting and elected local office; and the structures and male staffs of local health administration. An overview of patterns of employment and the gender division of labour follows. The required social and educational background, age, experience, and personal qualities of the women are explored. Their integration into existing structures, and the reaction of male colleagues, are examined through debates over 'official' titles, powers, attitudes and uniforms; and salaries and conditions of service. Systems of training and qualification are analysed, from the advent of women sanitary inspectors in the 1890s, to the gradual evolution of separate health-visitor training in the early twentieth-century. The organisational and campaigning activity of the women is placed within the context of the wider women's and labour movements. Finally, the thesis looks forward to the later inter-war period, confirming the continued complexity of middle-class female health activism in the 1920s and 1930s.