Female Compositors

This article was published in the Western Star and Roma Advertiser on 13 August 1890.

Miss Hill speaks about her application to join the New South Wales Typographical Association and says there are many women working as compositors in Sydney, some in the office of The Dawn.

A representative of the Australian Star waited on Mr. C. Jones, the secretary of the Typographical Union, the other day and gathered some information as to the reason why that body rejected the application of Miss Hill, an employee of Mr. Jarrett, printer, of Clarence street, to be enrolled as a member. A wrong impression appears to be generally formed as to the stand taken by the society in considering the matter. Miss Hill's application for the privileges of membership was refused because in the constitution of the society no provision is made. nor is it anywhere implied, that women may be admitted, and until a revision of the rules is effected they cannot be. Mr. Jones says the application is the first, within his knowledge, which has been made to any typographical union in Australia, though, in New Zealand female compositors are admitted and largely employed. The consideration of the question taken at Saturday night's meeting of the society was not anything more than a casual discussion, for: the compositors fully recognised the right of women to undertake any class of work for which they deem themselves qualified, and the amendment on the motion for Miss Hill's admission,—" That it is not in the interests of humanity that young girls or women should be employed at an occupation 50 per cent of whose followers die of chest and lung diseases, and whose statistical death rate stands fourth on the list of those whose trade or occupation causes them to be shortlived"—did not in any way affect the main question, which was the advisableness or otherwise of admitting to the union female compositors duly qualified and agreeable to claim equal rates of pay and equal hours of labor with men. The members present decided that it was not advisable, and that ended the matter. A look in at the society's rooms every day would justify the opinion that the ranks of the typos are already overcrowded, as the books show an average of 50 men out of work for the past six months, many of the unemployed unionists being competent and reliable men, well known to employers, and qualified to undertake any work in the trade.

In dealing with this subject a couple of weeks ago, the Star gave the opinion of several of the masters and men that the lack of employment in the printing trade was chiefly traceable to the large imports of foreign work and the competition of the Government Printing Office with private firms. This, however, has nothing to do with the female compositors, nor the question of their admission to the union. The members of the Typographical Association are fully awake to the fact that every compositor, male or female, working outside its ranks is an enemy to the general weal, and there is no reason to doubt that if it were possible Miss Hill's name would be placed on the list. As we have already said, no provision is made in the constitution of the society for such a contingency as has arisen, and the lady is therefore debarred from the benefits of membership.

Miss Hill, who was interviewed at her employer's, is a pleasant-featured, intelligent young lady, and in her neat-fitting dress her trim-figure showed that, the opinions of the members of the union notwithstanding, picking up stamps had not given her chest disease to any noticeable extent. She was neither wan nor hollow-eyed, and the way she skipped up-stairs when the interview was concluded showed that her lungs were in good order and her death-rate down to zero.

"Now, will you tell me why you want to join the union?" asked the reporter, thinking at the same time that a union with an individual comp. would be better for her than association with the fellow ship.

Certainly, replied the young lady, with charming candour; I want the same wages as men get.

Are you a good compositor ?

Yes, I am generally considered so. I have been 12 years at the trade.

Jobbing, I suppose?

No; I am a news hand. I worked five years on the Auckland Observer, and five years on another paper.

At the frames with the men ?

No; there were a number of women employed, and we worked together.

You are the first female applicant, I am told, for membership of the New South Wales Typographical Association?

So I believe; but there are a good many female compositors working in Sydney.

Mr. Jones thinks not more than ten.

Oh, I know of more than ten. There are - some here and some in The Dawn Office, and a few, I think, who are not at present working.

If you were admitted to the union you would not care about night work, I suppose?

No, I should not like that.

And it would be awkward working in an office where men were employed ?

I have worked alongside men, and found nothing to object to. In fact they work and have to earn a living, and they seemed to be all the better for the companionship.

Didn't swear over bad copy, or smoke, or anything like that ?

Well, if there was any swearing it was done quietly, and the, smoking—I didn't mind that.

Don't you think a woman is somewhat out of place in a composing room?

I haven't thought much about it. You see I have always been used to it. This is my trade just the same as a milliner's or tailoress's is hers. It is too late for me to learn any other, and, as I like the work and have to earn a living, if the union will not take me I must be a "rat."

I think from what I can gather, that it is unlikely the Sydney union will admit women.

I begin, to think so, too. Well, it cannot be helped. Those who have learnt the trade will follow it, I suppose, and if the union keeps them out they will have to go to non-union employers and work for cheaper wages.

You saw the motion, I suppose, which was to the effect that women agreeable to claim equal ratesofpay and equal hours of labor with men should be admitted to the association.

Yes, that was right of course women are not physically capable of doing the heavy work of the trade like men, but as compositors they are quite as good and equally fast.

You could scarcely comply with all the rules of the union?

Yes we could, but we would not be expected to. We would not be expected to work on a morning paper, where we would not be finished till all hours, nor would we be expected to attend meetings, or, in fact, to do anything except work under the conditions of membership, and, to act under the guidance of the union.

Miss Hill would not express any opinion as to the action of the association in rejecting her application for admission, and the interview terminated.

The matter of the admission of females to the union rests at present at this stage, but it is likely that at the meeting to be held on Saturday night the question may be re-opened, and as a large attendance of members is anticipated it will probably be discussed on its merits in the best interests of the society.

1890 'Female Compositors.', Western Star and Roma Advertiser (Toowoomba, Qld. : 1875 - 1948), 13 August, p. 4, viewed 31 July, 2013, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article97495240