We’re starting the new year with Harkness’s first known periodical article, a meticulously researched piece addressing the questions of work and payment for educated women. The subject matter was very current as the necessity of providing work and training opportunities for ‘surplus women’ required to provide their own financial support became recognised. It was also of personal importance to Harkness, just embarking on a new career through which to support herself independently of her family.
Source: The Nineteenth Century, ed. by James Knowles, September 1881, pp. 369-381. Bound volume (vol X, July-December 1881 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co., 1881)). Available from the British Library
WOMEN AS CIVIL SERVANTS.
THE great and increasing demand for remunerative employment of women calls for frank discussion of their present position and future prospects as members of the working community. Necessity now forces many women out into the world where the law of the survival of the fittest, and therefore of the strongest, holds good for all comers. Equality with men they can never attain, for the best work will always be done by those who possess the most physical and mental power; but that the amount of energy and ability women have at their disposal will eventually command the same market price as that of the other sex I firmly believe. At present every branch of labour on which women can enter is overcrowded by them, and therefore they are ready to engage themselves at a much lower rate than would be offered to men; but when a wider range of employment shall be open to them, they will receive due pay for good service.
While public interest seems especially directed towards this question, viz. the necessity of providing fresh opportunities for the gain of a livelihood to the large female section of the community now clamorous, and in no way to be ignored, it is well to understand clearly what has already been done, what labour market is already open, and where any vista of fresh modes of activity may be found. At the risk of taxing the reader’s patience with a good deal of dry practical detail, it seems worth while to give an account as thorough as may be of one important line of employment which has been experimentally offered to women: that is to say, their admission to one department of the Civil Service.
One of the most encouraging prospects before women, and that because the commencement made promises of further development, is their admission to the Public Postal Service. Nearly two hundred women find occupation in three important branches of the post-office, and their numbers, it is said, are likely to be greatly enlarged. Ten years ago the Clearing House, a branch of the Receiver and Accountant-General’s Office, was opened to female officers, the idea being to give employment to ladies in reduced circumstances. Sir John Tilley first suggested that these clerkships should be filled by gentlewomen, and Lord John Manners, then Postmaster-General, favoured the plan, and took much interest in the nominations. In the year 1872 the | staff commenced with thirty members, and gradually their numbers have been increased, and their work now embraces that of the Clearing House, the greater part of the Examiner’s Branch of the Savings Bank, and the Postal Orders Examining Branch.
To give an idea of the capacities required in the workers it is necessary to state briefly the nature of their duties, and to describe the way in which these are despatched. That a good deal of mental strain is put upon the officers will be seen readily, and that the work is no sinecure will appear from the following facts.
The clerks enter upon a six months’ probation after passing an examination in arithmetic, dictation, handwriting, and grammar, under the Civil Service Commissioners, at Cannon Row or Burlington House; and at the end of that time, if their health and conduct are considered satisfactory, a report is sent in to the authorities by the superintendent, and they are fully established as second-class clerks. The salary commences from the day of entry, and is 65l. a year, rising by 3l. to 60l. for a second-class clerk; 85l., rising by 5l. to 110l., for a first-class clerk; and 110l., rising to 170l., for a principal clerk. The age of admission is between seventeen and twenty. The hours of attendance are from ten a.m. to four p.m.; and the holidays consist of a free afternoon on Saturday and a calendar month some time during the year.
The Clearing House is situated at No 1 Albion Place, Blackfriars Bridge, and it will be remembered that this was the first branch of the Post Office in which ladies were engaged. The work here has to do with telegrams, and every telegram sent through the United Kingdom is forwarded here from the General Post Office for examination. In the press section on the ground floor all unpaid telegrams are received which are sent by those papers, agencies, clubs, exchanges, and news-rooms, which have made arrangements with the Postmaster-General for the transmission of news. The telegrams are sorted, their words counted, and the number entered to the names of the senders whose franks they bear, and then they are put away on the shelves round the walls. Above this room is the section for the examination of messages for small charges. All paid telegrams sent throughout England, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland are counted here, and examined to see that the right number of stamps have been affixed. Such words as ‘cui bono’ or names like ‘fly-by-night’ are apt to be written as one word, and the clerk in whose division such mistakes occur writes a report of the error, and her decision is checked by a principal clerk. The daily average of mistakes is about one hundred and fifty to two hundred, and they are all entered in a book, and the telegrams are kept for two years, in case some further information should be required. The messages found correct are returned in sacks to the General Post Office.
The Government Account Section occupies the third floor, and | consists of the postmasters’ abstract work, viz. daily account of the number of messages each postmaster has sent out, and the commission he claims. This work varies in quantity. During the snowstorm in January of this year, 97,143 more messages were sent than during the same week of the preceding year. It is noticed that messages increase during wet weather, and decrease on bright sunny days. The postmasters’ accounts are examined weekly, and a monthly abstract sheet is made out for the general office. The highest room is where the Government messages and those of the Queen and her family are counted and charged to the offices, and to the Controllers of the Royal Households. This apartment is far up above the noise of the streets, and a small balcony allows the clerks to breathe the fresh air from the river. A few withered ferns outside the window struggle to keep life in them, and are carefully tended by their owners, but the smoke and fog do not encourage the growth of young leaves.
The Examiners’ Branch of the Savings Bank, in which ladies are employed, occupies a floor of the new building in Queen Victoria Street, and the staff numbers on hundred and thirty ladies. A private staircase leads up to this part of the building, and a dining-room and kitchen are attached to it, in order that no communication need be carried on with the other floors. This work is in three sections, and a fourth has been added by the Act for Investments in Government Stock. The post-offices of the kingdom are separated into ninety-six divisions, and each division is the work of a separate clerk. The work consists in examining the signatures of depositors who withdraw money from the Savings Bank; in initialling them if found correct; and in entering the amount of the withdrawals on remittance-sheets for the Receiver and Accountant-General. The notices are forwarded to the book-keeper’s branch, and when returned, if found correct, warrants are sent to the depositors signed with the initials of the examiner, and advices to the paying offices. Examiners sign for withdrawals up to fifty pounds; first-class clerks to one hundred and fifty; and the superintendent for all sums over that amount. The Daily Balance Section deals solely with the post-masters, and is also arranged in divisions. The clerks receive the daily dockets of postmasters, stating the number of deposits and withdrawals in their various offices; and they examine dates and stamp marks, report errors, and make out a daily total. The Allowance and Adjustment Section is where the allowances to postmasters are counted, the rate of payment being five pounds for each thousand transactions of deposits and withdrawals for the medium-sized offices, and two pounds a year for the small offices. The large offices receive a fixed salary, and are dealt with elsewhere. Certificates and vouchers for payment are sent quarterly to the Receiver and Accountant-General. A final adjustment sheet for all the deposits and withdrawals dealt | with is made out every quarter, and must agree with the numbers taken from the ledgers in the Ledger Branch of the Receiver and Accountant-General’s Office. This section is the most difficult in point of brain-work, the adjustment sheet requiring great nicety in calculation, and clerk-headedness in tracing the smallest error. It is therefore the last section to which the clerks are introduced while learning gradually the whole of the work, in order that they may be ready to fill any vacancies caused by illness or any other reasons of absence among their numbers.
The section for Investments in Government Stock was commenced by six female clerks under the direction of men; and although the difficulties they had to encounter were greater than any they had previously experienced, their duties were accomplished to the satisfaction of their teachers, who bear testimony that little trouble was evinced by the women in understanding the work, and who speak in the highest terms of the way in which it was done. The clerks in this section deal with the applications for investments in Government stock. They compare the signatures of the declarations with those of the applications, and initial them if they agree; they examine the books of depositors to ascertain that the balances to their credit are sufficient to cover the investments and the commission, and if so initial them; they calculate the amount of the stock sold and the commission, and enter it as a withdrawal in the depositors’ books, and affix the Department stamp before sending the books to the postmasters. They deal with applications for stock certificates, and calculate dividends, compile adjustment sheets of the amount of the investments, commission, and Bank of England fees, and prove the totals of the columns against the totals of the entries in the Daily Record of Investments and Sales. As the public begin more fully to appreciate the advantages of further investment of money in the Savings Bank this work will increase, and a large number of female clerks will be required. The pioneers in this section were chosen from the most able of the staff, but the facility with which these grasped the idea proves that the ability for the work will not be wanting among female officers.
The Postal Orders Examining Branch began in January 1881 at the Clearing House, and has been removed to 111 Queen Victoria Street. The clerks here engaged have been drafted in from the Savings Bank and the Clearing House, and a few were admitted by special examination. The work is easier than the two other branches where women are employed, but a good deal of trouble is experienced in explaining the postal orders to the country postmasters, who, although they have the regulations in their possession, fail to understand them. Of the 13,000 post-offices in the United Kingdom 5,000 only are places where money orders are issued, the remaining 8,000 being for the collection and distribution of letters alone. But | the postmasters in the remote villages of Scotland and Ireland are extremely illiterate, and much time is at present spent in correspondence where mistakes have been made.
Post-office Orders were introduced in 1792 by three officers of the Inland Department of the Post Office, and the original intention was to enable the friends of soldiers and sailors to forward money to them by letter. The system was carried on at the risk and expense of these persons, who provided themselves with a chief office in the neighbourhood of the General Post Office. It was a private enterprise, for which they made their own arrangements with the postmasters as to the extent of the work, the mode of doing it, and the remuneration they were to receive. In 1838 the Earl of Lichfield, then Postmaster-General, obtained the sanction of Government for converting this private money order office into an official establishment, forming a branch of the General Post Office, under the management of proper officials, its produce being appropriated to the revenue. The number of orders issued in the succeeding year of 1839 was 188,921. The penny postage had an important effect on the business, and in 1841 the number sent out increased to 587,797. In 1856 business commenced with the colonies, and in 1860 with foreign lands. Up to 1868 there was a continuous flow of business, but in that year the parliamentary grant of education by the Privy Council Office ceased to eb made by means of money order, and a decrease followed. In 1871 the rates of commission were lowered and the work once more enlarged. In 1875 the total number paid was 16,000,000.
But it was found that the Inland Revenue lost by post-office orders for small sums, owing to the large amount of clerical labour involved, and the time spent in securing safe transmission. For all sums under ten shillings a loss of twopence was incurred, that is twopence on 25 per cent. of the whole. The question was discussed in committee, and it was decided that the accommodation of the poor being the object of post-office orders, some means of allowing them to the public must be discovered. Finally, a proposal was made that no money order should be issued under the charge of threepence, and that for sums less than one pound postal notes should be used, for the transmission of which less precaution need be taken than in the case of larger sums. This plan met with approval, and was embodied in the Postal Orders Act of the 7th of September, 1880.
Postmasters are supplied from Somerset House with postal notes, and at the end of each day they enter on a docket the number and value of those paid and those remaining unissued, and forward the docket with the paid orders to the Metropolitan Office. The orders are sent on to 11 Queen Victoria Street from the General Office, those of Dublin and Edinburgh in green bags, sealed. The work consists in checking the receipt of postmasters’ dockets in a book | kept for the purpose; in examining each order to see that it is signed by the payee; in entering the amount of any postage stamps affixed in their proper book; in examining the signatures of the postmasters and the stamps specifying the day on which they were issued or cancelled; and in initialing [sic] the dockets if found correct. The numbers are entered on a Division Sheet, to be sent to the Cash Account Branch, that the amount of each postmaster’s payments may be compared with the amount claimed in his cash account. The orders are then tied up in packets and laid in the pigeon-holes of their respective divisions in the labyrinths of cupboards at the top of the house.
The Money Orders business grows daily. The facility with which postal notes are sent renders them extremely popular, not only with the poor, but with all classes. To have a stock ready at hand for sending small sums of money, paying bills and subscriptions, is a saving of time and trouble, especially to those who live in the country at some distance from a market town. With the aid of stamps they can be made up to any sum of shillings and pence, and are less expensive than post-office orders, and safer for transmission than stamps. This work as it develops will furnish occupation for a large number of women, who will have the satisfaction of knowing that this division is entirely worked by themselves.
It will be seen from the above that the work in which these women are engaged is not mere manual labour, but requires careful application as well as skill of hand. One careless mistake involves endless trouble, for the accounts are kept with such precision that one penny miscalculated has to be searched for through numberless papers until it is checked. The hours are not long, but every moment spent in the office, except the dinner half-hour, is persistently employed, and the tension put on the power of the officers is too great to last over a longer time. Some few of the clerks are advised to retire after the six months’ probation if it is found that although they could pass the examination they have not the quickness necessary for the work; but the greater number remain and advance gradually, the berths being too highly appreciated to be left for other employments.
In contrasting the work of the women with that of the men in the Post Office, the authorities say that the women are more conscientious, and take a greater interest in their occupation.
This is perhaps only too easily accounted for when it is remembered what is the class of women who are here employed.
The three branches of the Post Office of which I am speaking were opened to women with the express intention of giving occupation to ‘ladies,’ and as each appointment has been made by the Postmaster-General this rule has been strictly adhered to. The women in the Telegraph Department and other Post Office work are distinct from these clerks, and their social position is not inquired | into when they are admitted. But these specially appointed clerks were not born with the prospect of work lying before them, and many a sad history is connected with their entrance on official life. The young men in the Post Office spend their time in exercise or amusement when the hours of work are over. Many of the women go home to continue their exertions in some other form. The salary is small, and one tries to increase it by giving lessons; another by sewing; a third in drudgery of a domestic kind. The continuous close application is often found a relief from pressing thoughts of great sorrow or loneliness; or there may perhaps be anxiety to rise as rapidly as possible to a higher position in the section, that a larger salary may be obtained. The clerks in some cases have others depending on them. Lodgings, where two idiot brothers are her only companions, is the home of one woman. A solitary attic near London Bridge is the home of another of these clerks. Possibly the women plod more steadily than the men do. At any rate the authorities are satisfied that nothing is wanting among them of quiet, business-like ways.
An article in the Quarterly Review for January, on the ‘Employment of Women in the Public Service,’ draws attention to the rate at which female clerks are paid in the Post Office, and regrets the disparity between their salaries and those of the men. Less than half the amount of remuneration is received for doing the same work in quantity and quality, and this although the women are now performing a higher class of duties than at the time when the salaries were originally fixed.
It should be remembered that three reasons underlie this apparently unjust disparity, viz. the health of the women, the extra accommodations supplied expressly for their comfort, and, above all, the present market price of the work. Absence from ill-health is far oftener the case with the female than with male clerks; the daily routine tells upon the women, and the repetition without break of the same monotonous employment seems to wear them a great deal more than it does the other sex. The constant confinement, the want of fresh air, and the upright position, all tend to increase the average of absentees, and to swell it above that of the male officers. Added to this is the fact that many live at long distances, and travel backwards and forwards in stifling third-class underground railway carriages; many bring little or no lunch with them, and abstain from ordering food in the building; many work hard after office hours, and thus use more strength than they ought to expend. Thus they are oftener absent from their posts than the men, and during rough weather they are more apt to fall ill. The arrangements made for their comfort are all extra expenses, and have to be deducted from the money they earn. Kitchen fires, cooking, and the wages of the housekeepers who live on the premises to prepare their dinner, | are luxuries the men do not require. Necessities I should rather say, for strict rules forbid the female clerks to leave their apartments from the time they arrive until they depart in the afternoon. The dining-halls are furnished with every comfort. Dinner, consisting of hot meat one day and cold meat and pudding the next, is served at one o’clock, with tea, coffee, or beer, as the clerks may desire.
Lastly, and above all, the market price of the work is the present rate of payment, and only time can alter the fact. Were all the female clerks to resign in a body their places would be filled in a few days. The market is overcrowded, and while this remains the case all arguments in favour of an increase of wages fall pointless. It is true forty pounds is too little to live upon, therefore women who cannot afford to wait until they rise to be first-class clerks must seek a livelihood elsewhere. The employment of women is certainly a great saving to the service, but when they were admitted it was for the express purpose of economising by cheap labour. Reference is also made in the Quarterly article, already quoted, to the changes rumoured as likely to take place in the mode of admitting candidates, ‘Do not disturb Camarina, for it is better undisturbed.’ A responsive echo to this sentiment is found among the ladies themselves. They have for so many years enjoyed the exclusiveness of these clerkships that they dread the day when the door will be opened to all classes. The other branches of the Post Office, in which so many women are working, are separate from them at present, and they are afraid when private nominations are no longer given they will be forced to associate with women of all grades. There are so few things ‘ladies’ can do, it is said, that it is hard to take from them their opportunities here.
Women have yet to learn that in work there can be no distinctions save that of intellect. To put up shelters for the few is scarcely fair by the multitude, although pleasant enough for the chosen ones.
If private nominations are done away with, and the entrance examination is made more stiff and thrown open to all classes subject to an Oxford or Cambridge certificate, there will no doubt be a mixed crowd eager to become civil servants, because the clerkships are better paid and afford more freedom than most woman’s work. Girls from High Schools and Girton students will compete, and no question will be asked as to social position. ‘Ladies’ will no longer obtain appointments by interest, but will be forced to measure their strength with their struggling sisters, and to be content to take the places due to them by reason of individual merit. Hard as this appears at the moment, when we look into the matter we see that it will finally be good for all.
The number of female clerks is largely increasing. The Act for Investments in Government Stock and the Postal Money Orders Act have created two new fields for their efforts. The authorities are pleased with their work and willing to enlarge their number. The Postmaster-General, speaking of the staff of officers in his report for 1875, when women were first admitted to the Savings Bank, says: ‘A‘ a further extension of female employment in the Post Office I have had the satisfaction of directing the formation of a class of female clerks in the Savings Bank. Although in arithmetic, at least, the standard of acquirement is high, a majority of the candidates succeed in passing the examination.’ That women clerks have gained in favour is proved by the rapid extension of their field of operation. All this points to an increased demand for their services, and holds out hopeful prospects of their being admitted to more branches of the Post Office and to other Government offices.
Here is work for the many highly educated girls in our schools and colleges, who are being trained in the very knowledge most necessary for labour as civil servants. The fact that the raising of the entrance examination is contemplated shows that the work is to be correspondingly hard. The women who have the ability to pass the examinations will not be unpleasant associates for the clerks already employed, and ‘ladies’ entering under the new regime need have nothing to fear from their future companions.
But if the office work grows harder and becomes of a more complicated nature, it necessarily follows that only clever and capable women will be able to pursue it, and the incapable ones will not compete at the examinations.
What is to become of those who possess little ability and who nevertheless are forced to provide for themselves?
The dearth of employment is so great everywhere that ladies cannot do better, it seems to me, than take advantage of everything open to them, and thankfully accept all positions, making as light of the attendant discomforts as they possibly can. If the best clerkships are out of their reach, let them be contented to enter lower branches of the service, such as the Central Telegraph Office, the Return Letter Office, or even the Post Offices in London and the country.
I do not pretend that these places offer the advantages of the three branches I have already dwelt upon. The salaries are less, and the arrangements include grave difficulties for timid, tenderly nurtured women; but in the struggle for bread this class of work is safe and respectable.
The Central Telegraph Office employs a mixed staff of 1,533 officers, which consists of 933 men and 600 women. They enter at the age of fourteen to eighteen in order that they may acquire the necessary manipulatory skill while their fingers are supple, and after passing an examination in arithmetic, writing, and dictation, they are sent to the school of Telegraphy, and learn to work the various instruments, the Wheatstone, Duplex, Sounder, Quadruple, Morse, | and Single Needle. When proficient, which is generally in about three months’ time, they are drafted off to the Central Office as vacancies occur. At first they perform minor duties, and assist the officers in charge, but when able to work alone they receive the sole care of an instrument. They sit in one large room, boys, girls, men, and women together, and help one another when stress of work calls for two clerks at one instrument. The women work eight hours daily, coming in on relays between 8A.M. and 8P.M. They have a whole holiday on Sunday. The night duty and Sunday duty falls entirely on the men, who grumble a little at the extra work the presence of the women entails.
The Instrument Room is divided into two principal portions, the Provincial and Metropolitan, and these are subdivided into divisions and groups, seven in the Provincial and six in the Metropolitan Department. The north-east and south-east wings are sent apart for the 283 instruments communicating with the various Metropolitan Postal Telegraph Offices; the remaining wings and the centre contain 221 instruments communicating with the provinces, Scotland, Ireland, and the news and special racing circuits. There are numerically fewer instruments in the Provincial than the Metropolitan galleries, but they embrace a large number of the fast-working automatic apparatus, and are harder to work than the rest, and therefore more in the hands of the men, the boys and women being congregated in the Metropolitan Department. At one end of the central gallery are twenty-four pneumatic tubes connecting seventeen of the important offices in the City and the West-End with the Central Telegraph Office. Several of the foreign cable companies and other offices communicate in the same manger. The House of Commons has a tube about two and a half miles long through which messages are blown, in from five to seven minutes. Tubes, working to offices in the West Strand and Lower Thames Street, about two and a half miles in length, have their messages transmitted in from three and a half to five minutes. The messages are drawn in by suction to the Central Telegraph Office, and are sent up to the instrument room by pressure from the engine room below. About 40,000 to 50,000 messages is the bulk of the daily traffic, and a large number of these are transmitted messages, and have to be received and forwarded, and therefore should practically be counted twice in the total. Besides this there are from 5,000 to 6,000 local London messages and a vast number of news messages. The greater part of the work is done between the hours of eleven and three, a lull occurring in the afternoon. This work is a barometer of business, varying from day to day, and increasing largely on race days, heavy parliamentary days, or when any matter of general interest takes place. The supervising officers are both men and women, and they are allowed to inflict the punishment of extra hours if they discover | any neglect of duty. The dinner is served on the premises in separate rooms, the Department providing fire and extras, also tea at four o’clock in the Instrument Room.
Women were employed here as early as 1853, while the wires belonged to the Electric Telegraph Company, and he number was increased in 1870 when the transfer of the wires to the Government took place. Considering the amount of work they perform, and the absence of night and Sunday duty, the salary of the women is in proportion to that of the men, being 8s. when first admitted, and rising gradually to 78l. a year, while the men receive 12s. to commence with, and rise to 160l. a year; the supervising officers are paid higher. The female staff must always be considerably smaller than the male staff because of the many duties connected with the service they cannot perform, and also on account of their health, which suffers under extra pressure and prevents them from being reliable officers when any unexpected rush of business comes on. The manipulatory skill is found largely among them, and in time they become accustomed to the deafening noise of the machinery and the excitement of the employment. The work is rapidly increasing, and the number of women engaged will advance as the number of men advances; and their scale of pay will rise if it is found well to raise the pay of the department. Every possible care is taken of their comfort, and the rooms devoted to their use are perfect in arrangement. A few leave as incompetent, but great efforts are made to keep them in the service and not send them adrift if it is possible to find work that they can do.
Another department of the Post Office, the Return Letter Office in Telegraph Street, employs a staff of fifty-five women, and they work by themselves, with the exception of three of their number, who are engaged in the Enquiry Office, where personal enquiries are made for lost letters. The qualities required for this employment are good hand-writing, quickness, and patience. The work is to return lost letters to the senders, the letters having been examined before they arrive in this section, and destroyed in cases where the discovery of the names of the writers seemed hopeless. The letters lost during the year average one in twenty, 2,013,149 in all. Of these, 1.759.748 are returned, and 253,401 are destroyed. The post-cards lost are about 71,754, and 39,649 are returned, and the same is the yearly average for newspapers and circulars. All articles lost in the post, or dead as the postmen describe them, are sent here—photographs, cheap jewellery, shoes, even umbrellas, to say nothing of white mice, rats, and serpents. Flowers from all countries are in vases on the tables, the rest of the things are in cupboards to be kept for two months, and when of value three months, and then to be sold by the Post Office auctioneer. At Christmas, Easter, and on Valentine’s Day the cupboards are filled with presents badly packed, or bearing | wrong addresses, while the senders are anxiously expecting the answers and thanks which they never receive. Letters sent from England to foreign lands and the colonies are returned every year to about the number of 204,572, principally those to Irish emigrants who have changed their abode, and who are unable to write to their friends at home without the aid of a priest. The work of the whole staff is 7,000 letters daily, each member being obliged to return 280 letters, and a larger number if she is dealing with post-cards, papers, or circulars, the hours are from half-past nine to five. They have a half-holiday on Saturday. The salary is paid weekly, and is 18s. to 20s. for a first-class clerk, and 14s. to 17s. for a second-class clerk. The dining-hall joins the office, and dinner and tea are supplied at a moderate charge. The whole place is bright and cheerful, and the flowers lost in the post add not a little to the pleasure of the officers. This work is also increasing, although it might be supposed that education had advanced far enough to enable people to correspond without giving so much trouble to the Post Office, but a little knowledge enables a great many people to use pen and paper, and a great deal does not teach them the advantages of writing a clear and readable hand.
The female telegraphists engaged in the post-offices of London and the large provincial towns are between one and two thousand, and they work at the same rate of pay and the same number of hours as in the Central Telegraph Office. They are trained in the Postal Telegraph Schools, after passing an examination under the Civil Service Commissioners, and as yet must obtain nominations to their posts through the interest of friends. They are never allowed to remain after eight in the evening, and during the day work behind partitions that screen them from the public, but all the same they are obliged to sell the stamps, post-cards, and orders required, as well as to do the wire work. They have generally a small room joining the office, where they retire for dinner, and here they make their tea, and sit when off duty. The eight hours’ work leaves them free to employ their evenings as they please, or to engage in other occupations if not too tired. I will not contrast these places. I would rather they spoke for themselves. Gentlewomen entering in large number for the examinations would find more companions of their own class. It would be quite possible for them, moreover, to work comfortably with both men and women of the present staff, although they might not care to introduce their working associates to the familiar equality of social intercourse. In the Central Telegraph Office the supervision is too strict to allow of much conversation, and gentlewomen, by exercising a little tact and good nature, would meet with nothing disagreeable from the fact of the staff being mixed. The publicity of the enquiry office in the Return Letter Branch, and of the post-offices of London and the large towns, creates a difficulty which | it would require considerable courage to encounter, but the freedom and independence of these places render them preferable to many positions as governesses, school-mistresses, and companions.
A pension can be hoped for after ten years’ service if the officer is disabled, and this is something to fall back upon as old age creeps on, and prevents undue saving in the present under dread of exigencies looming in the future. Women as civil servants have the comfort of knowing they are the children of the Government, and that they are not likely to be turned away when their powers are exhausted, or to be ungratefully forgotten when their services are of no further use.
The present rate of payment is not low, when it is measured with the remuneration received in other places by women, and only appears small when contrasted with the salaries given to men.
It must not be forgotten that men object strongly to the system of cheap labour, and dislike the increased competition for the trouble it gives. As the women press gradually from below, the men are forced into other spheres of action, wider ones, and further from home.
But necessity now compels large numbers of women to seek occupation; and we cannot but admire the quiet and determined way in which women as a class have taken possession of every fresh field of labour thrown open to them. As greater variety and multiplied subdivisions of work arise under the development of a complex civilisation, gradually there will be less pressure at any given point, and the fictitious conditions will decrease under which the female worker finds herself forced to give her labour at a lower rate than it is intrinsically and comparatively worth. Patience is all that is needed, and a bond of mutual helpfulness, binding together all women irrespective of class to meet the obstacles incident to changing social conditions of life.
MARGARET E. HARKNESS.