Project summary

Women’s pivotal role in the development of type design is little known. Prof. Fiona Ross and team aim to change this, with an in-depth study of women in type-drawing offices, 1910–90.

‘Women in Type’ is a three-year, Leverhulme-funded research project led at the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication of the University of Reading.

Type design plays a fundamental role in visual communication: it is crucial to the textual representation of languages to afford literacies to global communities. Histories to date have largely overlooked type design’s importance, and concomitantly the key contributors to the type-design and manufacturing processes that developed in the twentieth century. Women were often central to this development, particularly in Britain within the major type-manufacturing companies of Monotype and Linotype.

Our project will provide the first sociohistorical account of women’s role and responsibilities in type-drawing studios from 1910 to 1990 as experienced within the two companies: the Monotype Corporation and Linotype Limited (formerly Linotype-Paul Ltd and Linotype-Hell Ltd). A pilot study in 2016, which included visits to assess relevant archives, determined the scope of the project, its feasibility and the appropriateness of our research methodology. Focusing on the Monotype Corporation, whose type-drawing office was established in 1910, we were able to confirm the availability of relevant archival records and key personnel for interview. Our preliminary investigations and interviews have already yielded valuable undocumented information about women working in this field and the significant roles they occupied.

We were able to confirm that during the twentieth century women in type design, as in allied industries, increasingly took over roles traditionally held by men, which were vital to supplying the needs of the print industry. The Monotype and Linotype type-design departments, which had divergent practices, were both run or staffed principally by women from their inception. However, the details of these women’s positions and activities have been overlooked, and in particular their precise contributions to the typedesign process during the rapidly changing social and technological environments of the period.

Our team will document agencies of change for women working in these type-drawing offices against three interconnected contexts: in terms of social history; in relation to technological developments; and in terms of contributions to typeface design. Using data gathered primarily through interviews, the analysis of historical records, and the examination of technical drawings and typeface proofs, we will determine accurate histories of the development of typeface design and manufacture. The findings will transform our understanding of women’s activities and status within the designbased industries from 1910 to 1990, making a profound interdisciplinary contribution to social and design histories while informing current type-design practice.

This project benefits from a Leverhulme research project grant.