Dorothy Squires (b.1897): Life and Labour

Dorothy left school at 13 years old to start work; after illness, and missing out on taking the “11 plus” (6). (See Education and Schooling post). Employment opportunities for working class women were limited in the early 1900’s, and Dorothy saw Gentleman’s service as a good job to have. Working as a maid was not considered by the upper classes to be something you would strive for. Rose says, “Punch and other publications of that kind showed cartoons depicting the servant class as stupid and “thick” and therefore fit subjects for their jokes. The skivvy particularly was revealed as a brainless menial. Many of the working-class were considered thus” (Rose, 1992). Dorothy did not find that. She enjoyed most of the house maid jobs she had and felt valued.

Initially Dorothy went to work at her uncle’s eel and pie shop, serving customers and clearing up. But she says, “their business wasn’t all that good so they couldn’t give me wages” (7). After this she went on to work for a Quaker family, as a house keeper. She was with the family for nearly four years and she remembers her time there fondly, writing, “what lovely people the Quakers were” (8). The feeling was mutual. When she told them she was leaving, the gentleman she worked for said “he was only too sorry, but he couldn’t afford to pay [her] more,” (9) but he gave her a good reference. Dorothy went on to have more housekeeping positions, first working for a large family and then for an American widow named Mrs Klein. One person made a large impact on Dorothy’s life, in her early working years. The only one of her employer’s families who she ever calls by their first name.

“Mrs Klein was a widow with a young son and a grown up son who I think used to take films in France when the war was on. He used to stay with his mother when on leave in this country. He was very nice and although sometime later I was leaving his mother, to do war work he gave me a nice tip. His name was Philip, so should it ever come to pass, that he hears this has been said, he will remember me as Dorothy.” (20)

Tram, Lower Edmonton, 1900


Dorothy left gentleman’s service to join the war effort. She only left her job with the Klein’s as she “felt so unpatriotic when [she] went on the buses to see the girls as conductresses, that [she] felt [she] should be doing something to help, win the war.” (22) Dorothy went to work on the trams as there was no vacancies working at the munitions factories. She was apprehensive as working in gentleman’s service meant she “was not used to meeting all kinds of diff types of people” (22). She got on very well with the job and that is where she met her husband (See Home and Family post).  Having a partner meant extra money was needed for a wedding as the “army pay was terrible” (25) so Dorothy went to work for the Ammunition works. When the war ended and the armistice was called, Dorothy was presented with two medals for highest output. She is proud to say that “it was for the highest average on both shifts, night and day.” (31).   

After Dorothy’s husband returned from the war jobs were harder to come by. He started to learn carpentry, but struggled to get work as army paperwork got in the way. He had to get permission from the army, and they told him it “wasn’t a suitable firm” (39). The next job that became available was one that would take him away from his family for days at a time, after being away at war so long, he turned that down. The next job he was offered was as a postman but the wage wouldn’t cover their living expenses. Dorothy recalls “the man who interviewed him said, well you get 11/- pension. That angered my husband for he was gassed and disabled […] he considered it an insult to even mention his pension” (40). He finally found a position at a cinema, but after a while it closed. The family were living “on the dole again” (43), so Dorothy took matters into her own hands after a building company ignored repeated applications. She says, “I went and asked the manager if they had overlooked my Husband’s name, but they said no they were treated periodically, anyway it done good, for a couple of days after they sent for him.” (43-44). The job wasn’t to be as he was offered a better job at the Water Board, where he remained until her retired.

Royal Small Arms Factory Pattern Room, 1977

Dorothy went on then to have various full and part time jobs, the most notable at R.S.A.T in Enfield as this is where her dad worked until his retirement. Dorothy’s job “was on the barrels” (56). Which she enjoyed very much as she believed she was doing “very important war work” (56). Redundancy followed, after the war, and Dorothy moved on to other jobs until she settled on a job in the post office. She enjoyed working there but retired at 63. She believes she “could have gone on much longer the clerks were a wonderful lot to work for.

Although Dorothy and her Husband struggled for work and with money during the war years, their daughters fared much better. Dora who had left school to work at the Co-operative, “she stayed with the Co-op 15 years” (52). Only changing jobs once to help in the war effort. Joan worked at the post office straight from school, and raised two children, whilst her husband worked as a “P.O. Overseer.” (66) Both worked hard, I think a trait they inherited from their parents.



2:735 SQUIRES, Dorothy, Untitled, MS, pp.142 (c.18,000 words). Brunel University Library

Secondary Bibliography:

Rose, Jonathan, ‘Rereading the English Common Reader: A Preface to a History of Audiences.’ Journal of the History of Ideas. 1 (1992): 47-70


Dole Queue [image] URL:

Royal Small Arms Factory [image] URL:

Trams Lower Edmonton [image] URL:

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