This extract from the Blue Book of 1914 gives an insight into women's occupations before the First World War.

The statistics come from the Census of April 1911. It is a reminder that not all women were either domestic servants or wives dependent on their husbands.

Women's sphere

There are in England and Wales 4,830,734 women returned as engaged in paid occupations, as compared with 11,463,665 men, i.e. there are slightly less than two wage-earning women to every five wage-earning men.

Of these, 680,191 are wives, 411,011 widows, and 3,739,532 are unmarried. Domestic service is still the main occupation for working women, employing 1,345,358. This is nearer a quarter than a third of the whole number, and it is very closely pressed by what is the biggest class for male workers - mine and quarry work.

In the following occupations women outnumber men: Bakers, bookbinders, button makers, cartridge and firework makers, cardboard box makers, celluloid makers, chocolate makers, corset makers, cooks (not domestic), dressmakers, envelope makers, flower makers, glove makers, hospital service, indoor domestics, jam and sweet makers, laundry workers, lodging house keepers, matchbox makers, milliners, needle and pin makers, nurses, paper bag makers, rag dealers, shirt makers, steel pen makers, straw hat makers, tailors, teachers, textile workers, tobacco makers, and waiters (not domestic).

In this list most of the sweated trades are included. Women are still comparatively few in the professions, but we find that in the teaching profession women outnumber men by 197,283. There 4,204 women painters and sculptors, 24,272 musicians and singers, 9,171 actresses, 477 women doctors (the great majority of whom are married), 5,689 women occupied in literary, scientific and political work, and three women clergymen.

In the retail trade women are becoming more and more conspicuous. There are 10,971 dairy keepers, 11,881 butchers, 53,638 grocers, 15,376 coster mongers and nearly 10,000 tobacconists. Over 20,000 women are independent farmers and graziers, and 96,850 are returned as helping relations on farms.

Gardeners, oddly enough number only 3,519, including florists and nurserymen, but there are 5,010 photographers, 4,031 insurance agents, and 6,476 bank officials. There are 4,301 merchants, agents and accountants, and the 117,057 women commercial clerks are nearly a third of the total number of men clerks. But strange indeed are some of the occupations in which some of our country-women find a livelihood.

We find that there are 231 women blacksmiths (205 of whom are widows), one coachman, one cabdriver, 42 coal heavers, 25 farm bailiffs, two woodmen, six shepherds, seven coal miners and quarriers (all single), three shipwrights, four bricklayers' labourers, 14 masons' labourers, 86 plumbers (77 of them widows), five gasfitters, three navvies, 70 paper hangers, 166 painters and decorators, 657 cabinet makers, 56 carpenters and joiners, 605 pilots and boatmen on seas, and 358 occupied as pilots or boatmen in barges or as watermen on rivers and canals.

Transcribed by Laura Probert

Victorian women

Social class

Notable women

Hastings maps and photos

Suffragettes in Hastings

Suffragettes in Thanet

Elsie Bowerman


Marianne North

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