16.1tusan - 2004 REFORMING WORK Michelle Tusan MICHELLE...

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© 2004 J OURNAL OF W OMEN S H ISTORY , V OL . 16 N O . 1 R EFORMING W ORK Gender, Class, and the Printing Trade in Victorian Britain Michelle Tusan Women’s employment in industrial trades was a highly contested issue in Britain during the second half of the nineteenth century. Nowhere was this more evident than in women’s attempts to gain a foothold in printing. This article explores the campaign that Victorian feminists waged to enable women to enter the industrial workforce in the face of increasing opposition by male workers and labor organizations. Trade unions cast woman printers as a threat to the family wage; in response, women founded their own printing organizations. Started in 1876, the Women’s Printing Society employed both working- and middle-class women as printers. Unable to join male-run printing houses because of the restrictions that the London Compositor Unions imposed, the Soci- ety created a place for women in the industry by basing their business on a system of shared profits that benefited both employees and inves- tors. These businesses issued one of the first sustainable challenges to gendered hierarchies of work by reforming capitalist business practices in order to provide new opportunities for women workers. I don’t think the vote the only panacea for all the sufferings of the weaker sex,” commented Emma Paterson upon leaving her leadership post in the Women’s Suffrage Association in 1873. “I am a working woman myself and my work for this society has brought me into contact with large bodies of women in other trades. . . . I hope to induce Englishwomen to try whether they cannot help themselves, as men have done, by combination.” 1 For reformers such as Paterson, the problem of employment opportunities and working conditions for women, rather than the question of political repre- sentation, remained the central focus of late-nineteenth-century debates over women’s status in Britain. Solutions proposed for the unemployed and underemployed woman included better education, job training, and emigration. Feminist reformers proposed one of the most controversial ideas—open traditionally male-dominated occupations to women. This article examines the circumstances under which women attempted to en- ter the male-dominated printing trade during the 1860s and 1870s. With few financial resources of their own, working women such as Paterson took advantage of the expanding British industrial economy to create new opportunities for female workers through the development of women-run business networks.
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J OURNAL OF W OMEN S H ISTORY 104 Women’s employment in the industrial trades, especially printing, emerged as a highly contested issue during the second half of the nine- teenth century. Printers had long considered themselves as part of a “labor aristocracy,” receiving high wages for producing culturally valued com- modities. Those employed as compositors held a particularly prestigious position: only skilled, literate workers could transpose handwritten copy to print. During the Victorian period, women sought to join the printing
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This note was uploaded on 07/08/2010 for the course HIS 241 taught by Professor Dmitriadis during the Fall '08 term at University of Toronto.

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16.1tusan - 2004 REFORMING WORK Michelle Tusan MICHELLE...

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