The Typing Business
In the midst of this new world of work emerged a generation of women who could see clear business opportunities. Women began opening their own typing pools and schools. Forging networks amongst themselves to offer their clerical services to a world they were entering for the first time.
In fact, the oldest typewriter in the exhibitions collection was bequeathed by one of these such women, Ethelinda Hawden who, alongside her partner, set up her own typing pool and would later go on to play an instrumental role in the fight for women's suffrage.
“Then from the 20th century onwards, you do get more working class young women coming in from the inception of open typing schools, yet of course regardless of class status all of these women were expected to leave once they were married,” said Taubman.
The impact of the war was also insurmountable. What this period of time illuminated for women was the understanding they could, and wanted to work, having done so in the absence of the men away fighting, but well into the 20s and 30s the practice of leaving once married was commonplace and almost all older women working as typists would in fact be unmarried women.
“I think in these years women saw an opportunity, they saw how they could establish business, but what is also interesting at this time are the professional societies like the Typist Society of the 1880s that began appearing. These groups were allowing women to network and communicate with one another which is why you see the role of women and the typewriter converging in the suffragette movement.”
The typewriter was used as an ally for political and social protesting, to create leaflets, posters and channels of communication on an entirely new and portable scale than had ever been seen before.
The Key Issues
Though undoubtedly typewriters opened doors, its role in the landscape of a woman's working life was also hugely detrimental. “Of course alongside all of the good, runs issues right up to the end of the 20th century. With women in these very male dominated spheres they were open to all kinds of exploitation and to sexual abuse.”
An issue that remains prominent to this day, though typewriters have been exchanged with desktops. It’s terrifying that workplace harassment and abuse is still at the forefront of women’s lives today.
The role of the woman typist also presented itself as a huge threat to men, explained Taubman. “From the 1880s onwards you get this cartoon depiction of female typists, depicted as a threat to their male boss and even as a threat to other women.” With this came the hyper sexualised deception of women and ultimately of their objectification. This lasted well up to the late 1980s and continues today in part, owed to the influence of the typewriter.