Even after two years of war, with its large demand on women’s labour, the number of women available for “substitution” work is extraordinary.
Women love substitution jobs: there is a patriotic glamour about replacing men which is not to be found in the pre-wartime occupations of women, and it is the cause of the distinct unpopularity of obvious feminine occupations such as dressmaking and millinery. The supply of women clerical workers, too, appears to have been almost exhausted, and it is no unusual thing to find in offices senior officials reduced to typing their own letters or writing them by hand.
Women’s labour has become fluid and is easily transferred. Where women are drafted into a new district appeals are made to well-to-do people who have never let rooms to accommodate workers. In a few centres, such as Coventry, there are clearing hostels, to which the women can go on arrival. In one district where there were 6,000 women employed before the war there are now over 20,000, and they have come in parties from Plymouth, Bristol, Wales, and the Potteries.
Both in Hull and Leeds women are being employed for breadmaking in bakeries where machinery is used. A woman has been placed in London at a guillotine cutter in the cardboard trade. This is particularly interesting, as cardboard box firms frequently report that the men in this work are indispensable and that without them a plant would be nearly idle. The employment of women in chemical works is very important, both for laboratory work and for light labour.
An increase in the employment of women in the public services is reported, not only as labourers in gas and electricity works, and train conductors, but also as train inspectors, tram drivers and lamp lighters. There is an instance of a woman having been placed as steerer for a traction engine.
Women in work of a heavy kind are having a considerable success. At a slag reduction works women have been shovelling slag into a crusher. At an ironstone works 22 women have been substituted for men, loading and unloading wagons. At several docks they are acting as pit prop carriers, and they are working as labourers in the building trade, though none are carrying hods.