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Being a Secretary

One of the subjects I’m interested in is the history of women office workers, and how it came about that women to this day dominate secretarial and clerical jobs. Many of the suffrage campaigners I have researched were office workers, and many women gained experience of administrative work in suffrage and other political or charitable activities. Lately I’ve been doing some work on Esther Knowles and Gladys Groom, who were secretaries to Frederick and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence. I’ve written about Esther Knowles (see link below). I’ve also researched and talked about the life of Olive Beamish, a former suffragette who went on to found her own typewriting bureau.   Working in the WSPU offices One of the things that intrigues me about the history is how much of it chimes with my own experience over a hundred years later. In 1971, Spare Rib was advising women: don’t cook, don’t type. The reason was that it was seen as a feminine skill, that is a skill that would lead only to low-paid, d

My Month in Books: August 2021

The books I enjoyed most this month were Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer's Journal by Sarah Lefanu, which shares insights into the process of writing a biography, and Monica Dickens's novel The Winds of Heaven, first published in the 1950s, which explores the plight of a woman left penniless when her husband dies. Dreaming of Rose: A Biographer’s Journal , Sarah Lefanu (Handheld Press, 2021) I first read Sarah Lefanu’s Dreaming of Rose in its original edition, published by SilverWood Books, in 2013. I loved it then, and having just reread it in a new edition by Handheld Books, I love it even more. Back in 2013 I hadn’t started work on my biography of suffrage campaigner Millicent Price (née Browne). Writing a biography was more of a vague dream than an ambition, something I’d like to do but didn’t think I could. I love reading biographies, though, and it was as a reader that I was first drawn to Dreaming About Rose , which promised to reveal something about how the bio