Women employed for the war effort

In March 1915 the Labour Exchange in Turner Street, Ramsgate, claimed that no able-bodied person need be unemployed. Women were wanted as farm and dairy hands, for leather stitching, brush making, machining clothing and for light machining for parts for the armaments industry.

By April 1915 there were already signs in the Thanet Advertiser that women were starting to take on the jobs of the men who had left for the front:-

It is all to the good, therefore, that women should take up the lighter duties of distribution, and there are many duties in the railway, postal, police, and administrative services that might well be done by women, thus releasing many fit men for the greater and heavier employments.

Thanet women had always played a prominent part in certain branches of business such as running schools and boarding houses. By 1914 more women had learned to drive so could soon adapt to driving taxis and other vehicles. By June 1915 women were already working in shops and offices doing work thought to be the sole province of men before the war. They were also employed as railway carriage cleaners, ticket collectors, luggage porters and tram conductors.

In June 1915 this article about female grocer’s assistants appeared in the Thanet Times:

In at least three shops in Margate groceries and provisions are now sold by female assistants. Naturally they were very slow at first, and it took three of them to do the work of one man but it had to be remembered that it took male grocers’ assistants four years to become a qualified counterman.

The girls are willing, clean and neat and the manager thought that in a very short time they would be first-class assistants, and he expected that in the very near future the public would prefer lady assistants. Many of these girls had no previous business training but had lived at home assisting their parents with the management of their boarding houses in the season.

Shopkeepers who employed female labour to fill the gaps caused by the enlistment of male staff found that the women were successful at counter work and made good sellers, however they were not so good at heavy labour or in workshops.

By far the largest influx of women into the workplace was in the transport industry where the number of female employees increased tenfold. They worked as conductresses at first, then later as drivers on buses, trams and underground trains. They also worked as vehicle or train cleaners and mechanics. There were women porters on the stations, women guards on the trains and women ticket collectors on the stations. In September 1915 the Thanet Advertiser reported that Miss Millinger, the first lady ticket collector at Broadstairs railway station, had been transferred to Margate Sands Station, and was being succeeded at Broadstairs by Miss Alice Elgar.

In June 1916 the Thanet Advertiser interviewed the manager of the Isle of Thanet Tramways and Electric Lighting Co Ltd., who had nothing but praise for the work being done by the female staff. He said:-

We employ about twenty four women as conductors on the tram cars, and we also have women on the clerical staff now. They are not suited to act as drivers, as the cars are not fitted with electric brakes. They are punctual, and do exactly the same work as the men, and in my opinion more efficiently. There have been few complaints and little absence for illness. Indeed the outdoor life seems to suit them. They receive the same wages as the men and work the same hours.

By July 1916 there were 23 female tram conductors operating in Thanet plus a lady clerk working in the office.


In 1916 Siminsons in St Lawrence advertised for two women aged 15-17 to train as photographic pupils. Cameras were lighter, more compact and efficient so there was no need to carry round 20lbs of equipment any more. The chemical process was also much improved from the “messy operations of the old wet-plate days.” Miss Ethel M Weekes became Ramsgate’s first lady press photographer.


In January 1916 the Thanet Advertiser published a photograph of Miss Violet Hewitt at Beaconsfield Farm, in Haine as an example of a young lady turned farm boy who was enjoying her new work on the farm.

The first call for women farmers was made in April 1917 by the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries. There were plenty of applicants although the farmers had their doubts at first as to the suitability of farm work for girls. By June the committee could not keep up with the demand for more and more girls. The work of the girls came up to their highest expectations. The Ramsgate centre supplied the districts of Ramsgate, St Lawrence, Minster, Monkton, Sarre, Ash, Sandwich and Stonar. On June 23rd 1917 a photograph of girls hoeing cabbages appeared in the Thanet Advertiser. That month the Ramsgate Girl Guides were also praised for their work collecting eggs and waste-paper and growing vegetables. The young Brownies were also working in the cemetery to make sure that the graves of foreign sailors and soldiers were kept neat and tidy.


In July 1916 Ramsgate Post Office proudly published a photograph of the female members of the outdoor postal staff at Ramsgate in the Thanet Advertiser( see above)  and said that they hoped to employ more of them shortly. The postwomen had been issued with smart uniforms and they hoped one day that the girl messengers might be similarly attired. They added that the postwomen were very efficient and that Ramsgate should be proud of all its women who had stepped in to fill vacancies caused by the absence of men on war service.

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