Women and work in Australia – notes

Posted on | November 1, 2012 | No Comments

The following notes and links are from reading Elizabeth Windschuttle (ed) Women, Class and History: Feminist Perspectives on Australia 1788-1978, Fontana Press, Melbourne, 1980

Ray Markey, ‘Women and Labour, 1880-1900’ (83- 111)

Louisa Lawson – the Dawn Club: demanded economic and social equality
(The Dawn newspaper now archived online thanks to this successful campaign; more links here)

Low wages for women could be justified because most were expected in due course to marry, and their position in the workforce therefore was considered only temporary (91)

Female labour faced all the problems of organization common to unskilled workers… Piece-work encouraged an individualism which counteracted unionism, and outworkers were obviously impossible to organize (92)

Harvester Judgment, 1907: tied the minimum wage to the male ‘family breadwinner’ concept, and women’s wages were fixed at 54 per cent of the male minimum. Women were one of the more important sacrifices in the stunted growth of industrial capitalism during the period 1890 to 1940 (106)

More on Harvester Judgement

Coral Chambers Garner, ‘Educated and White-Collar Women in the 1880s’ (112-131)

The presence of female breadwinners had been underrated because they did not fit the propaganda of the unions nor the ideologies of the employers in a ‘man’s country’ such as Australia. Although there were no fully developed philosophies which forbade women from working, constraints in the community were common. The typical male attitude saw women’s work as permissible in joint endeavours when subsidiary to male, and the union’s approach restricted women’s work to very specified areas, classed it as inferior and therefore condemned it to half-rate pay scales (113)

Business bookkeeping from the family home: an example of ‘part-time work and out-work’ (114)

In Australia, the respectability ethos concerning the enforced idleness of unmarried daughters was still operating as late as the interwar period among the upper echelons of the middle class, and throughout Australian history it has been used against working-class husbands who permitted their wives to work (114)

Because the average woman white-collar worker was young and single, it was easy for reformers to ignore the plight of these poorly paid people and talk in terms of the ‘living wage’ for family men…

…bargaining processes meant that ‘many women were worse off by the early years of the twentieth century than they had been in the 1880s. The ideology of the male breadwinner and the basic wage stems from this period and the conviction was strong that the male should be the regulator of the family’s status. In this context, the woman was viewed as a home-based supplement to the husband’s efforts, and housework as socially expended energy not worth paying (or in the case of domestic servants to be negligibly paid as a natural vocation and not an acquired skill)’ (117)

Rachel Macpherson, a leading domestic theorist and a founder of the Melbourne Home Science courses, wanted girls to have a practical preparation for life for, she argued, nearly all girls had marriage in mind, and marriage and careers did not mix… she saw the prudential character of domestic science as fitting training for a female’s life-style (123)

…bookkeeping and most ledger work was reserved for male clerks, although rare women had been entering these ranks from the 1860s. The success of women’s work in private offices as clerks and receptionists helped their entry in the 1890s into the official Public Service posts. There were a few female typists even by the end of the 1880s because the Women’s Industrial Exhibitions for the centenary in 1886 had stimulated interest in this new occupation. Most of the early telephonists were women, and there were numbers of women counter clerks for telegraphs and, as in England, where women were placed in charge of other women by the 1870s, some supervisory positions for women arose in telephone exchanges and offices before the turn of the century (124)

Linda Rubenstein, ‘Women, Work and Technological Change’ (514-30)

Sitting all day –> back problems and tenosynovitis
VDUs –> headaches, eye-strain, eye-sight deterioration

Women using a cheque-processing machine at one bank were found to be getting ganglions on their wrists which required surgical removal. The bank apparently found it cheaper to pay for medical treatment than to redesign the machines (522)

Further Reading:

Rachel V. Macpherson, ‘Woman’s Work in Victoria’, Victorian Review, vol. 4, June 1881

**If anyone knows more about Rachel Macpherson and/or the history of the Melbourne Home Science courses, I would love to hear from you…


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