May Rainer. Life and Labour. (b. 1909)

As a working class woman, Rainer knew the hardships of labour in the 20th century. Her father was always between jobs, and had to make every penny matter. At the beginning of the memoir, Rainer writes that because her father did not have a job, her mother had to go out to work. ‘Father was in the dole queue along with the rest of the discharged soldiers, she went out to do housework at first, to help with the money shortage’ (Rainer, 11) During the early 20th century, it was mainly the men going out to work while the woman stayed at home with their babies and did the housework. This shows how tight money was for the Rainer family. It also shows how once the men had left the army and fought for their country, their country betrayed them as they were left with nothing; only dole money, which was not a lot. It certainly was not enough to feed and clothe an entire family.



Her family was a baker’s journeyman before he joined the war, which did not pay much either. ‘My Father was a Bakers journeyman, since the pay for this job was a guinea a week, what Mother earned was a help…’ (Rainer, 13) This shows that Rainer’s working class background meant that both parents had to work, as they were too poor to let the mother stay at home. Although money was tight for the family, the money was worth more before the War. ‘For the whole 14 years period before the War, money, especially where the man was unemployed, was short, but it seemed to be worth more, the working people got more value in their food baskets, even so the women had to be expert at making a little seem a lot.’ (Rainer, 23) From this quotation, we see that unemployment before the war was high, but people got a lot more for their money. It also shows that the woman’s job was still at home making sure they had enough food to get by.


In 1907, Rainer’s parents moved to live in Fulham, where the rent was low and flats were easy to find. The rent was low because wages were low, which in a way, balances itself out. In A. W Philips’ The Relationship between Unemployment and the Rate of Change of Money Wage Rates in the United Kingdom, 1861-1957, he states that ‘Conversely when the demand is low relatively to the supply we expect the price to fall, the rate of fall being greater the greater the deficiency of demand.’ (Philips, 283) This is what was happening during this time. As the wages were low, it would be quite easy to get into debt but Rainer’s mother always avoided getting into debt by only buying what they had to. ‘…Like my Mother quite prepared to go without until it hurt, rather than get into debt, everything had to be solely for necessity. It was of course very good training for me even now I still take more care than is strictly necessary to see that I get the best value for money.’ (Rainer, 15) Although Rainer recognises that she has more money now than she did when she was a child, she appreciates her mother being cautious with money. Rainer knows that she can get the best value with her money if she is cautious and not wasteful.

Propaganda to join the Great War

Throughout the memoir, Rainer repeats that wages were always low when she was younger, but people were more cautious of their spending. Even with entertainment, people did not want as much as they do now. People were happy with life’s simple offers, so they always made do with what they had. This is something Rainer remembered throughout her life, which taught her to appreciate the simpler things and learn the true value of money.


Philips, A. W., The Relation Between Unemployment and the Rate of Change of Money Wage Rates in the United Kingdom, 1961-1957, New Series, 1958

Rainer, May, Emma’s Daughter, May 20th 1977, Brunel University, July 1977, Vol 2. 0644

Propaganda to join the Great War-

Guinea coin-

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