The Society for Promoting the Employment of Women

{See also Employment}

{See also Professions}

In the c19th, the standard occupations for working class women were domestic service; the clothing trades (dressmakers, milliners); and farmworker. Paradpoxically, there were even fewer jobs open to women with a higher level of education or social class: most of them had little choice than to become governesses in private homes, ill paid and occupying a awkward social position as they were too grand to mix with the other servants but not accepted as equal to the family.

The 1851 census showed that only 7% of middle-class women were listed as having an occupation. In most cases this was as governess, writer or artist. A further 3% were businesswomen or farm owners.

In summer 1859 the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women was formed, with the intention to train women in accounts and book-keeping and the skills needed to become clerks, cashiers and railway ticket office clerks. Its first committee members included Jessie Boucherett, poet Adelaide Anne Procter, Bessie Rayner Parkes , Caroline Biggs and Emily Faithfull , who began to work on the Journal in November 1858, some titled ladies including Helena, Comtesse de Noailles, and several men. Later those involved included the Earl of Shaftesbury as president, future Prime Minister W.E. Gladstone and his wife, Sir F. Goldsmid MP and Clementia Taylor, later to play a large part in the suffrage movement.

By 1869 the Queen, HRH the Crown Princess of Prussia and HRH the Princess Louise were patronesses.

This society also ran a registry for women's work. When printers refused to take female apprentices, Emily Faithfull (assisted by Maria Rye) trained as a typesetter, founded the Victoria Press

The Society for Promoting the Employment of Women had gained considerable success in finding work for women with photographers, lithographers, watchmakers, dial-painters, shop assistants and telegraphists. Maria Rye founded a Law Engrossing Office employing female legal copiers at Lincoln's Inn and trained women in telegraphy. The group was inundated with women wanting this kind of work, and soon Maria Rye and her associate Jane Lewin founded the Female Middle Class Emigration Society . This kept her so busy that she had to delegate the law-copying enterprise.

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All pages © Helena Wojtczak 2009. Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed. Email me