The Home Front in Parliament: early women staff

Last Friday I was on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Today in Parliament’ programme, interviewed by Mark D’Arcy about early women staff in Parliament. You can catch it on iPlayer for a few days still – my bit starts around 17:00. I talk for about 5 minutes about how women came to be employed in new roles in the House of Commons and House of Lords during the First and Second World Wars.

'Girl Clerk in Commons'
Press cutting on the first female Commons Clerk, Kay Midwinter. Parliamentary Archives, DRE/A/1/15

In particular I talk about the four Girl Porters employed by the Serjeant-at-Arms in the First World War; Miss Court, given a job in the House of Lords in 1918 after her twin brother was killed in action, who rose to become Accountant; and Kay Midwinter, the first female Clerk in the House of Commons, and her unsuccessful struggle for equal pay. Here’s a taster of the press reaction to Midwinter’s appointment: ‘a girl’ (she was 32 years old), ‘dark, slim, business-like’.

I was delighted to be commissioned earlier this year to write articles on Kay Midwinter and May Ashworth, official Typist to Parliament from 1895, for the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Hopefully these pieces will be included in the next ODNB release this autumn, so more on Midwinter and Ashworth then.

Palace of Westminster Home Guard
Palace of Westminster Home Guard. Parliamentary Archives, HC/CL/CH/3/10

If you’re too late for iPlayer, or you want to know more about early 20th century female Parliamentary staff generally, I did a talk in March which you can now watch on YouTube: Women Staff in Parliament during the First and Second World Wars. This one is 45 minutes long – it is fully captioned, so do turn those on if it helps. As well as all the women mentioned above, I talk about the second female Clerk, Monica Felton, and the women staff who worked during the Second World War in Parliament’s Home Guard and Munitions Factory.

My talk was one of four talks for Women’s History Month 2014 put on by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art, all now on YouTube. I would recommend them all. Links for the other three are as follows:

 

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