February 13

women typesetting, 1890's

On this day in 1890 the Pall Mall Gazette of London carried an account of an interview with a pair of ladies who had possessed the temerity to invade the province of the Victorian Make by founding a Journalists’ Training Home for Women, in which were to be trained compositors, readers, shorthand writers, reporters, and journalists. Furthermore, the pupils were to be drawn only from the homes of such middle class persons as military officers and clergymen.

Answering an interrogation by an amused and supercilious reporter, one of the proprietors of the Home stated: “Female labor is slowly, but nevertheless surely, finding a footing in the printing world, a footing that is well-nigh impossible to eradicate; therefore, the men had better look to their laurels, for in the event of an eight-hour system being introduced, women will prove a very formidable obstacle in the field of labor.” To further emphasize her point, she added, “In France, Eugenie Noboyet says, ‘It is we who make man, why should we not have a voice in his counsels?’”

At about the same time there was a journal being published in Boston, entitled Elle, devoted primarily to women compositors. According to the London account, “this sheet is a veritable manhater; not the slightest mention of man in any shape or form is to be found in its columns, neither is genus homo allowed to hawk it!”

In the United States, the printing journals frequently carried snide accounts of female typos. One of these, appearing in 1889, stated: “Were one to visit the printing offices in Chicago or any other city where female compositors are employed, a pale, worn-out set would be seen. Many there are, ’tis true, who have their usual robust appearance; but many, and a majority, wear that peculiarly pale, determined expression which follows a term at the case. The average time a young woman can endure continuous work at the case is considerably less than five years. Some go over that time, but when they leave the case at five years, headaches, backaches, and other aches have played sad havoc with their constitutions, unfitting them for other employment.”

This intemperate attack on lady comps did not go unanswered. A reply, written by an anonymous editor taking protection behind the pseudonym of Pica Antique, asked of the predominantly masculine readers: “And who will have the unblushing effrontery to deny that women compositors are doing as good, clean and tasty work as those of the opposite sex? Aye, more, that their presence purifies, elevates, and is a strong incentive to nobler lives and a higher manhood; that every printing office where women are employed is blessed with more decorum than formerly; is more free from vulgarity, profanity, drunkenness; that work is done in a more quiet and orderly manner; that the moral atmosphere is far more fit for man to live in and the day a red-letter one when woman devoted herself to the temple of the art wherein Benjamin Franklin sits a crowned king.”

Leave a Reply