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Monday, 5 December 2011

Female clerk's pay in the 1910s on the London and South Western Railway (verses male clerk's)

There is no doubt that before 1914, on average, railwaywomen earned less than their male colleagues. However, the wage gap between the genders is difficult to determine accurately because there were only a few jobs that both women and men did and where direct comparisons can be made. One was clerical work, which by 1914 was increasingly being opened up to women. I have talked in three posts about the first sixteen female clerks that were employed at the London and North Western Railway’s Birmingham Goods Depot from 1874. One post looked at wages the women were paid, finding that until their eighth year they received the same amount as men (here), after which their pay rises stopped. Nevertheless, I have not looked at the amount female clerks were paid in the 1910s, when they were becoming commonplace in the offices Britain’s railways.

Between 1870 and 1900 the London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) is known to have employed nineteen women as telegraph clerks across its network. However, these appointments were made in isolation from each other and were not part of an established policy. Indeed, the women usually received their positions because station masters requested that their daughters be found a job before they were married. It was only in March 1914, on the arrival of a new General Manager, Herbert Ashcombe Walker, that the company formalised the ‘conditions of service’ for new female clerks. This laid out what qualifications they were required to have, as well as their wages.[1] Therefore, because a formal policy was established, female and male clerks’ pay can be compared. Furthermore, it should also be noted that male clerks’ scales were revised in 1911.[2]

However, the comparison isn’t a direct one for a number of reasons. Firstly, it should be stressed that male and female clerks were paid differently, in that most men were paid monthly, while all women received their wages weekly (and, therefore, could be fired more easily). Furthermore, the document describing the female clerks wages does not specify exactly when increases should occur, nor by how much. Therefore, this information has had to be gleaned from staff records. All it does specify are that the maximum rate for London based clerks was 28 shillings per week (£72 16s/year), while for those in the country it was 26 shillings (£67 12s/year).[3] London wages covered stations including ‘Waterloo, Vauxhall, Nine Elms [goods depot], Queen's Road, Clapham Junction, Kensington and Receiving offices in London.’[4] For the purposes of this post I will only be looking at the wages of the women based in London.

In addition, male clerks’ salaries were increased automatically each year, whereas the records indicate that the female clerks’ wages were raised at different points and by different amounts, presumably based on their individual abilities. This said, most women were guaranteed increases each year. Thus, Florence Emily Elliott, who joined as a telephone operator at Waterloo in July 1914, earned ten shillings a week for a year before increasing to fourteen.[5] Whereas Lilian E Teuten, who joined the company in the same capacity in April 1915, only stayed on the lowest rate for three months before advancing to twelve shillings.[6] Consequently, because the female clerks’ wages were not strictly standardised, I averaged the wages that twenty clerks were on at different points in their employment to ascertain the rapidity of their wage increases. However, some of the twenty left the service in the seven years and, thus, the number of wages being averaged for the later years of service diminished (See the table on the left). Lastly, in early 1920 the L&SWR significantly revised the rates female clerks were paid, and consequently good data to make a comparison with male clerks’ salaries is only available for their first seven years of their employment.

The figures suggest that for much of the seven years female clerks on average earned more than the men, as indicated in the graph below. This shows the average yearly rates that female clerks were on at any given point, as well as the male scale. Indeed, while the women started on a yearly rate that was £4 less than the men, it was only after half a year that the women’s’ average surpassed it. Indeed, of the nineteen female clerks still employed after a year of service, fourteen were earning more than the men’s standard rate of £35 per year. In the third year of service the average rate the women were being paid slowed and male clerks began earning more than the women’s average per year, five years after appointment.

Furthermore, the difference between the wages male and female clerks were on at points across the period is shown better in the graph below. Indeed, the average wage that the women were on passed those of the men after half a years’ service. It reached its peak at two and three-quarter years’ service, when the average yearly rate that sixteen female clerks were on was £12 4s more than the men’s set rate of £40 per year. Thereafter, the difference fell and from the women’s’ fifth year onwards the average rate they were earning was less than the men’s standard salary of £70.  

Lastly, I want to look at the total earnings that male and female clerks earned over the first seven years of their employment. The table below shows the standard raise that male clerks received each year, as well as the average rate that female clerks were on at the same points. The table shows that over the seven year period, female clerks, on average, earned £8 4s more than their male counterparts.

Ultimately, these figures show that the L&SWR’s female clerical workers in the 1910s did not earn less in their first seven years employment than their male colleagues. Rather, they actually were paid a little more. Additionally, combined with research I have done on female clerks working for the London and North Western Railway in the 1870s, which also showed male and female clerks’ wages were comparable, it tentatively suggests that the railway industry’s female clerical workers before the inter-war years were in the first years of their employment paid just as well as the men. However, this clearly requires further investigation given I have only studied two companies.

However, more importantly, it should be remembered that this research does not alter the fact that the women’s wages were capped at 28 shillings (£72 16s) and they could not gain promotion beyond the position of supervisor. Furthermore, in the L&SWR’s case very few women stayed in employment long enough to earn the maximum rate, as even in the First World War they were barred from serving while married. Of the twenty women sampled, only three women ever received the 28 shillings a week stated in the 1914 ‘conditions of service’.

(NB: Some did go on to earn higher wages when the L&SWR revised the scales in 1920. Yet these were high in comparison with the earlier scales, given the inflation of wartime, and for this reason they have not been included in the sample.)


I will be doing two talks on 20 December and 17 January at 6.30 pm at Kew Public Library on Victorian Railwaywomen, looking at who they were, where they worked in the industry and their pay and status.  Refreshments will be provided, all for a mere £1. If you would like to attend, call the library to book a place on 020 8734 3352 (Opening Times: Tues - 10-1, 2-6; Wed 2-6; Fri 2-6; Sat 10-1, 2-6) or email  


[1] The National Archives [TNA], RAIL 411/275, Traffic Officer’s Conference, 27 March 1918, p.113 and Appendix A, p.18
[2] Hampshire Record Office [HRO], 104A02/A3/13, London and South Western Railway minutes extracts: Carriage Department, marked number 13 on spine, Jul 1910-Jul 1914, circular Revised Scale of Salaries for Clerical Staff, 20 November 1911
[3] TNA, RAIL 411/275, Traffic Officer’s Conference, 27 March 1918, Appendix A, p.18
[4] HRO, 104A02/A3/13, London and South Western Railway minutes extracts: Carriage Department, marked number 13 on spine, Jul 1910-Jul 1914, circular Revised Scale of Salaries for Clerical Staff, 20 November 1911
[5] TNA, RAIL 411/506, Clerical register - Female staff 1915 – 1924, p.5
[6] TNA, RAIL 411/506, Clerical register - Female staff 1915 – 1924, p.7

1 comment:

  1. It nice to hear women weren't swindled out of a living wage, for once. like most were. Sadly men usually insisted women should paid less than themselves, and denied them promotion which was exclusively kept for the male. Obviously this kept women at a financial disadvantage to men and ultimately kept them in poverty which few could ever escape.


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