Olive Doris Gold (1897-1977): Life & Labour

For the most part women did ‘women’s work’, i.e. low-paid work. The sexual division of labour therefore split the working class along lines of sex.’ (Beddoe, 90)

The statement above is referring to the state of woman’s labour prior to the Second World War. In Olive’s world, ‘women’s work’ was a defining characteristic of her younger years. After leaving school at 13, Olive first went into dress-making and says, ‘I served the first years as an apprentice and received no wages.’ (12) After the year she was promoted to 2d per hour, which is 1p in modern currency. (source) The older women were earning 2 and a half d per hour. Olive goes on to say, ‘at times the work fell off and there was nothing to do. It is hard in villages for girls to find work, but a Rushden heel making firm opened the emtpy factory in the village and I and quite a few other girls got work there.’ (12) Olive pursuing any means of work supports the following quote from Beddoe:

The second tool of analysis which I regard as very useful is to note the way in which women were regarded as a cheap reserve pool of labour which could be brought in and out of the workforce to suit the requirements of capital and/or state. This can be checked and confirmed, or not, through local studies.’ (90)

The ‘local study’ here is the working life of Northamptonshire-women in the early 20th century. Olive and her coworkers were expendable labour forces working for almost nothing, except to benefit the state There is no sense of accomplishment or well being in Olive’s working life. She was being exploited as a worker because working in factories is what working-class women of the time were expected to do. Olive, like many other people was a slave to capitalism and did not get as much of a reward out of her work as she should have based on the amount of hard work she did. During one winter the working conditions were so bad she says, ‘No doubt this was the beginning of the arthritis from which I suffer badly now.’ (13) One of the girls working with her contracted TB and died while another caught rheumatic fever. Despite the working conditions being awful I think Olive felt she must work because having a job is a major part of a working-class identity. Working gave Olive a sense of her identity and she carried it with her throughout her entire life.

600A Canadian farm. (source)

What makes Olive’s case interesting is that she took her working-class identity with her when moving to Canada. Canada has much different class system to the UK. In Canada, Olive would have been considered middle-class because owned and ran a farm which would be considered a ‘highly skilled blue-collar jobs.’ (source) Despite escaping the working-class clutches of Northamptonshire, Olive was very unhappy in Canada. It seems abruptly jumping from one class identity to another took its toll on her. One aspect of class identity that Olive never seemed to have changed was her interests and hobbies. She never jumped to any form of high-brow pass times such as going to the theatre or art galleries. Her working-class identity defined her even in a different continent. The only real pass time Olive apparently took part in would be religious related ventures. Religion is a free vessel that is easily accessible by all so to be devoutly religious was very popular in times when there was not much working-class people could afford to do. The fact that the people surrounding her in Canada did not share her religious beliefs was so alienating for Olive that she decided to return to England. Work defined class identity was definitely a major factor in Olive’s life that she did not like to stray away from.

 

Beddoe, Deirdre. ‘Women’s waged work.’ Discovering Women’s History. 3rd ed. New York: Addison Wesley Longman Limited, 1998. N. pag. Print.

Gold, Olive Doris, ‘My Life’, The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography (Brighton: Harvester, 1987). Vol 2. Number 321.

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