01 November 2023, The Tablet

Model, florist, policewoman

Model, florist, policewoman

Warden Joyce Roffey on point duty in Croydon
Photo: Alamy/mirrorpix


In mid-twentieth-century Britain, women’s work was limited and often thankless

Jobs for the Girls: How We Set Out to Work in the Typewriter Age
(ABACUS, 320 PP, £22)
Tablet bookshop price £19.80 • Tel 020 7799 4064

Ysenda Maxtone Graham has created an irresistible corner, entirely her own, on the social-history bookshelf. She is a spirited chronicler of this country’s recent past, the years of the mid-twentieth century, still within living memory but fast disappearing into deep history. Using interviews with people born from the Thirties to the Sixties, she captures huge changes in small worlds, from girls’ boarding schools to the summer holidays. There are voices and experiences in her books which roll the reader back through two world wars and into the end of the nineteenth century. Some of the interviewees in Jobs for the Girls, setting out to work in the 1950s, could conceivably have had grand­parents who set out to work in the reign of Edward VII or even Victoria. Her account of post-war working women ends in 1991, the year when we first heard of emails. This is therefore, in every sense, a book about life and work in long form. A young woman of 2023, quite probably gazing at a screen in a bedroom of her parents’ house, would find in it descriptions of an era whose forgotten freedoms are now quite as strange as its social proscriptions.


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