Jobs for the Girls: How We Set Out to Work in the Typewriter Age by Ysenda Maxtone Graham - review by Valerie Grove

Valerie Grove

To Finishing School and Beyond

Jobs for the Girls: How We Set Out to Work in the Typewriter Age


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How those boarding-school heroines of Ysenda Maxtone Graham’s delightful Terms and Conditions (2016) made us laugh. Their well-heeled parents packed them off to places with names like Lawnside and Summer Bank to eat disgusting food (sago pudding was ‘phlegm’, stew ‘pterodactyl’s hooves’) and to learn as little as possible. Better not become too brainy or potential husbands might be scared off.

The result was pride in academic underachievement and dependence on ‘little jobs’, the subject of this sequel. Lady Diana Spencer was typical: she ‘floated up, entirely O-level-less, through the nursery-school-teacher-and-nanny route’ from West Heath Girls’ School, which just ‘bumbled along’, producing one girl actually named Bumble Ogilvy-Wedderburn, who got three O-levels and went on to a cordon bleu course . As for finishing schools, Maxtone Graham asks, ‘What were these [mostly clever, just badly educated] girls doing suddenly holed up in Swiss villages?’

Once ‘finished’, you found your little job. Perhaps you’d learned at Miss Chynoweth’s secretarial college how stamps should be stuck onto envelopes equidistantly from the top and the right-hand side. You might apply for a ‘Girl Friday’ job, advertised in the Crème de la Crème section of The Times’s Sits Vac. As a cordon bleu alumnus you could be a chalet girl or cook boardroom lunches until rescued by marriage, ideally to someone in the Foreign Office.

The slow progress of women into the professions has already been well documented. Maxtone Graham describes a mild exasperation at the misogyny she encountered in her research. ‘Honestly!’ she writes of a father who disparaged his daughter’s dream of becoming an air hostess (‘flying waitress’) despite having never encouraged her

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