Labour History Review

The Making of a 'Domestic' Life: Memories of a Working Woman

Labour History Review (2008), 73, (3), 253–268.

Abstract

Louise Jermy's autobiography, Memories of a Working Woman (1934), has been described as 'a record of ill-luck, ill-health, poverty and disaster met with courage'. This article discusses Jermy's memoir both for the individual narrative and as a starting-point for consideration of the wider issues that surrounded the making of this 'domestic life'. While Jermy's life in domestic service was bound by home (her own and other people's), her story tempers our understanding of the limited choices open to working-class women. It provides insight into the regional disparities in female employment: Jermy's life journey took her from the Broadlands Estate in Hampshire to extended periods of urban life (in London and Birmingham), concluding in rural Norfolk. There, Jermy ended her working life as her maternal grandmother had done, laundress to the 'big house'. Yet whereas the grand mother spent her final years in the workhouse, Jermy died in her own home, leaving modest savings. A member of the largest women-only organization in interwar England, the Women's Institute, which encouraged her to tell her story, she identified with its view of domestic work as skilled work. Although she did not challenge her position in the social or gender hierarchy, she developed a strong sense of self-worth throughout her working life.

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Author details

McDermid, Jane