‘the first aim of women’s existence is marriage, that accomplished, the next is ordering her home’ – The Railway Sheet and Official Gazette
The railways were a masculine environment, a world of brain and brawn, of science and technology, daring and danger – not a place for ‘the fair sex’ as the GWR liked to refer to women.
Yet women were the cheapest form of labour and after much objection and external pressures, the GWR finally allowed women to work in their Swindon factories.
In her latest book, Rosa Matheson from Highworth, traces the development of this problematic relationship, from the 1870s when women were employed as polishers and sewers, through the changes brought on by the two World Wars and the introduction of women into railway offices.
Using an archive of over 100 pictures, she draws on a vast collection of original documents and forms, as well as written and oral testimonies providing first-hand insights into the women’s experiences.
A chapter on distinctive women features sisters Irene and Freda Dening who both achieved the Brunel Medal, a highly prized qualification in railway management in the 1920s.
Elsie Winterton also led the way as the first female member of the Institute of Railway Signalling Engineers in 1923. She is pictured front left with other women in the GWR drawing office in 1918. Her sister Ella is on the front right.
Elsie's daughter Jill Mackay, said, "I have reason to feel very proud of her, and of the other women who proved that women could very ably take on the work of the men who went to war. They paved the way for equal rights for women of the future."
The Fair Sex is published by Tempus, priced £12.99.