Selina Todd
Young Women, Work and Family in England 1918-1950
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005
pp. 272

Although there have been many excellent studies on women’s work in labour history and histories of workplace relations and practices in recent years, the role of young women (largely those between school leaving age and 24) and their contribution at the workplace or in society at large is perhaps less examined. This area of study is understandably of particular interest for the Women in Type research team; many of TDO’s female employees, especially in the postwar era, were local grammar school girls whose first meaningful employment was at Monotype’s factory in Salfords. Selina Todd’s engaging study ‘Young Women, Work and Family in England 1918-1950’ addresses this gap in the historiography of women’s work, contributing original research and conclusions in the field.

Todd’s book offers a systematic approach of the relationship between young women, employment, social life, and family in England across the period 1918-1950, and is built upon extensive qualitative and quantitative research: census evidence, contemporary social surveys, as well as government, trade union and employers’ records. Additionally, the author draws information from eighty-one oral history interviews gathered from existing oral history collections and a range of published autobiographies.

Todd’s assertion is that within the time frame under examination ‘young women workers served as motifs of social, economic, and cultural continuity and change’, and argues that their role is central in our understanding of English society in the first half of the twentieth century. She contends that young women’s employment practices had a profound impact in the structure of their lives as well as affecting the lives of their families and wider communities in complex and significant ways. The centrality of paid work to young women’s lives is also solidly established, mapping change and continuity in employment opportunities and offering a convincing explanation of young women’s position within the labour force. Finally, the demands of the family economy, the importance of the girls’ wages to working-class households, and the interplay between social background, family networks and occupational choice are also some of the issues examined in this thorough and nuanced study.