Monday 30 August 2010

Librarians, Stewardesses and Paper Bags

There's a great section in Cassells Household Guide on occupations open to women here
in which I particularly like this advice (my italics):

"The next suggestion is also a valuable one; it is the opening of the situation of librarian to educated gentlewomen, either in public institutions or in private families of rank or wealth. From the reports of the recent Conference of Librarians we learn that the Americans have already set us an example here, and in the Public Library at Boston, U.S., seventy ladies are employed, a few men only being kept to lift the heaviest books on the high shelves. The ladies appear to have given the utmost satisfaction in this position, to which they appear thoroughly suited. The work is such that a lady of good attainments and education could undertake and enjoy. It requires no great physical exertion, no exposure to the weather, and no hardship which the most delicate would shrink from. The salaries in this profession are so limited that they are not sufficient for the support of married men with families, nor are they objects of ambition to the single man with any fairer chances in life; but they would nevertheless form a good provision for a single woman, who, upon even this small pittance, might manage, with economy, to keep herself in comfort and as a gentlewoman."

I find this fascinating because librarianship is now perceived broadly as a 'female' occupation, although - as an erstwhile librarian myself - I can vouch for a few gentlemen lurking in the background (I was never much help with those high shelves, mind). Also, the salary information holds true today, broadly speaking.

Anyway, I just came across a companion piece from 1854 in - regular readers will need no prompting - the Leisure Hour. You can read it all here, if you like. It includes one or two surprising details on women's employment, not least

"A few adventurous females are found bold enough to dare the terrors of the deep, as stewardesses and attendants in passenger vessels"

That actually surprises me. It also includes one odd historical detail that I've never noticed before (one of the joys of reading old Victoriana) ...

"Almost every article purchased in shops is now sent home in paper bags ; and often you receive your change neatly done up in one. The straw bonnet - that truly English and becoming article of attire - that has been platted and made up by a woman's hands, is forwarded to you in a green bag, also made by a woman. So great is the convenience afforded to shopkeepers and others by these bags, that the demand for them is enormous. Tons of paper are daily converted into them, with an economy that wastes not a visible strip."

Next down you're down the shops, demand your change in a paper bag ...

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