May Owen (b.1896): Life and Labour (Part 2)

During the 1940’s May Owen’s husband passed away and due to her no longer having the breadwinner there to provide for her, Owen was forced back into the work place to fend for herself once again. ‘In 1941 it was not easy to get a post. I would be told I was a bit old’ so in order to survive Owen ‘learnt typing and went as receptionist book keeper in hotels. […] Handed £200-£300 a day.’ (p.8) However Owen had no home so had to move into domestic service as a housekeeper.

259117582Owen’s first post was for a wealthy widow of a former General. Owen has trouble again finding the respect that she believes she deserves as she ‘had to tell her to leave my kitchen or else I’d bring the roof down. She was so sarcastic and so high and mighty. So superior, but I stuck it for two years on principle’. This shows again the social discourse of the separation of classes, as Owen sees her employer as undeserving of her class as she has most likely not worked a day in her life where as Owen has had to work nearly most of hers just to have a roof over her head and food on the table.

Owen still had a mentality of a working class widow from in the nineteenth century even up until the mid/ later years of the twentieth century she was still working ‘up to a year or so ago’ (p.9) before she wrote her autobiographical letter when she was near the age of eighty, which is a long way past the normal age for people to continue to work as most others would have retired by that age. This idea reflects the ideology that working class people lived and died for work in order to always be able to provide for themselves and their family. Owen only mentions the ‘fruits of my labour’(p.9) once in her entire memoir showing that the little money that she did earn went towards housing and food and had little else to spend or time for herself.

If you haven’t already read part one of May Owen’s Life and Labour you can click here to take a look:


May, Owen. Autobiographical Letter. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, 2:576

Picture of servants –


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