Image: Kate Lewis reading a book by Edward Burne-Jones
This page is regularly updated. Sources used in writing about specific women are listed at the end of each post. Here I’ve listed websites, blogs, projects and books that focus on a number of women in a sector or period and those looking at issues that affect women at work in the past and today.
The history of women at work
Blogs / specialist sites
Sisters of the lens – celebrating women photographers from the 1850s to the 1950s
Woman and her Sphere – a wealth of suffrage stories as well as insights into the world of work
Women Engineers History – histories of women working in engineering and construction
The First 100 Years – the past and future of women in the legal profession
Trowelblazers – highlighting the contributions of women in the ‘digging’ sciences – archaeology, geology and palaeontology
City Women, founded by Dr Carrie da Silva, celebrates a wide range of women’s firsts in the world of work.
City Women in the 18th century was a project by Dr Amy Erickson exploring the stories of women’s work in the City of London through their business cards.
The City of Women London map re-imagines the London Underground map and replaces the names of the 272 stations with those of women and non-binary people who have made their mark on London. Among them are several women featured in this project: Hilda Hewlett; Mary Harris Smith; Amy Ashwood Garvey; Christina Broom, Gertrude Leverkus and Emma Paterson, in the context of the Women’s Printing Society.
Books written before 1970
‘The Cause’ by Ray Strachey (1928), reissued by Virago in 1978. Subtitled ‘A Short History of the Women’s Movement in Great Britain’, this has a lot of valuable information on the various struggles to give women more right to work from the 1840s to the 1920s.
‘British Women in the Twentieth Century’ by Elsie M Lang (1929). This includes chapters on specific professions as well as a chapter on ‘Careers for Women’, which highlights the successes of a range of named women.
‘Women and a changing civilisation’ by Winifred Holtby (1934). Nearly 90 years old and still worryingly relevant.
‘Mainly for Men’ by Ethel M Wood (1943) Looks at the role of women in society including the world of work.
Books written after 1970
‘A Woman’s Place 1910-1975’ by Ruth Adam (1975, new afterword. 2000) Published by Persephone Books, this is a readable social history of the place of women in society in the 20th century with a strong focus on work.
‘Enterprising Women: The Garretts and their Circle’ by Elizabeth Crawford (2002). Elizabeth Crawford is also the author of the blog Woman and her Sphere (see above).
‘Significant Sisters’ by Margaret Forster (1984). This focuses on eight areas of change, such as the Law, the Professions, Education, Politics and Birth Control and the women who drove them including Caroline Norton, Elizabeth Blackwell, Emily Davies and Margaret Sanger.
‘Magnificent Women and Their Revolutionary Machines’ by Henrietta Heald (2019). Explores the founding of the Women’s Engineering Society in 1919 and in particular the stories of Katharine and Rachel Parsons and Caroline Haslett.
‘Rebel Women Between the Wars: Fearless Writers and Adventurers’ by Sarah Lonsdale (2020). A multiple biography of women in mountaineering, politics, engineering and journalism.
‘Women in Business, 1700-1850’ by Nicola Phillips (2006)
‘Women and the Women’s Movement in Britain 1914-1959’ by Martin Pugh (1993) Fills in the gap between the end of Edwardian suffragism and the feminist movements of the 1960s.
‘Ladies Can’t Climb Ladders’ by Jane Robinson (2020). Focuses on the lives of professional women who could pursue their careers as a result of the 1919 Sex Disqualification Removal Act. Particular focus on medicine, law, academia, architecture, engineering and the Church.
‘A Woman’s World: 1850-1960’ by Marina Amaral and Dan Jones (2022) celebrates the lives and stories of women from all countries and walks of life and includes entries on Hilda Hewlett, Caroline Haslett, Syrie Maugham, Lena Ashwell and Kate Meyrick.
‘The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper’ by Hallie Rubenhold (2019). ‘What is this book doing on the list?’ you might be asking. The women featured in my project, particularly those born between 1837 and 1870 are exceptional in the careers they were able to make for themselves and the level of financial independence they were able to achieve. The lives of the five women featured in this book were far less exceptional: it is their deaths that have made them famous. In re-constructing their stories, Hallie Rubenhold gives valuable insight into life for many, less fortunate, Victorian women.
Specialist research bodies
The Women’s Library – London School of Economics.
The Bedford Centre for the History of Women and Gender – Royal Holloway, University of London
One of the best resources for finding out about women at work in the late 19th and early 20th centuries is the British Newspaper Archive. The digitisation of newspapers like The Queen, The Gentlewoman, The Vote and Common Cause makes what women were doing far more visible and accessible.
The Women’s Library has digitised copies of annual reports, pamphlets and newspapers published by women’s organisations.
The Modernist Journals project has a range of free-to-access digitised periodicals from 1892-1922 including The Freewoman, a feminist journal edited by Dora Ramsden and Mary Gawthorpe, to which Rebecca West contributed.
‘The Englishwoman’ was a pro-suffrage monthly journal published between 1909 and 1921. Contributors included Helena Normanton and Hélène Reynard. If you have a British Library pass, which is free but requires registration, you can access digitised copies of the magazine remotely.
The Women Engineer, the journal of the Women’s Engineering Society, published since 1919, is also available in a digitised and searchable form. The WES worked with many other women’s groups and so gives insight into the work of women in a wide range of sectors.
If you want to go right back to the start, you can read The English Women’s Journal, the original feminist magazine, founded by Barbara Bodichon, Bessie Rayner Parkes and Isa Craig and published between 1858 and 1864. The proceedings of the National Association for the Promotion of Social Sciences are also all digitised and available via HathiTrust. Here you can read speeches by Barbara Bodichon, Octavia Hill and Rhoda Garrett. You can also find records of events like the International Women’s Congress held in London in 1899.
Women at Work today
Blogs / specialist sites
Catalyst – Workplaces that Work for Women
Women in Banking and Finance – an industry-wide membership network
The Fawcett Society – campaigning for, among other things, pay equality for women
Birds Eye View – supporting film-making by women and non-binary people
Free the Bid – giving a voice to women film-makers in TV, advertising and film
‘What Works: Gender Equality by Design’ by Iris Bohnet (2016). Explores the role of behavioural design in creating a fairer workplace.
‘Invisible Women’ by Caroline Criado Perez (2019). Exposes the role that a data bias towards men plays in women’s lives.
‘Mother of Invention’ by Katrine Marçal (2021). Looks at the way in which women’s ideas and experiences influence design. It includes a particularly interesting chapter on the history of women in computing and the way in which pay and prestige for computing jobs increased as women were replaced by men.