Friday, March 14, 2014

Telling HerStory 2014: A Dictionary of Female Occupations

The Book:

A Dictionary of Female Occupations: Women’s Employment from 1850-1950 by Margaret Ward

What's it about:

A Dictionary of Female Occupations… looks at occupations women held in England from 1850 to 1950. This book takes an encyclopedic approach to its articles with short descriptions of 300 occupations that include hints regarding where to find documents to research. While some of the jobs listed  will be familiar like nurse or domestic servant (those fans of TV’s Downton Abbey can bone up on all the different nuisances that the term servant includes) ; others will be surprising such as  fur pullers and miners.

The author’s introduction states that this book “sets out to demonstrate the range and diversity of women’s work spanning the last two centuries…and to suggest ways of finding out more about what often seems to be a ‘hidden history’.” 

Why you should read it:

I love how this work not only describes the history of an occupation but also provides resources for learning more about the occupation and in some cases where the records exist. In some cases certain careers can have multiple entries describing all of the nuisances that have existed including various titles during war time. I was surprised by how many of the occupations were unfamiliar to me but were obviously a product of their time. One such occupation was Aerated Water Bottler. This job required protective gear for the face and arms as the women filled glass bottles with aerated water. In a period article labeling this job one of the most dangerous, it explained that removing the filled bottle from the machine, posed the greatest danger. A short history of the job teaches the reader that carbonated drinks, available since the 18th century, were popular in the Victorian period especially as an alternative to alcohol.

Additional resources:

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