Girls were expected to contribute to the family income as soon as they could (or else to take over the housewife’s role if their mother had died or become ill) – school leaving age was 14 through much of the period and many had part-time jobs before that. But on marriage, the assumption was that a woman would give up paid employment and not go back to it.
This is Mrs Gardiner, born in 1882: “ I didnae want to work after I got married and ma husband didnae want me tae work. I did go and get a job though, when the children were off ma hands. An’ I went an’ got a job, cleanin’, cleanin’. So I came hame an’ told ma husband. He was mad, flamin’ mad! He says: ‘What’ll the men in the boat say aboot ma wife goin’ oot tae work? I says: ‘You ask the men if they’ll come an’ pay the rent.’”
Not only did women labour hard in the home, when times were tough they were the first to go without. Joan Creal is quoted: “Father got served first, he was the boss, he was the working man, he brought the money in. He had a chair all of his own, your dad, you weren’t allowed to sit in his chair. Mum would wait to see everyone had some first. She often had less than what you had and made up with vegetables. She looked after the family first and was last to get what was there.”
Helping women keep going, however, was clearly a strong sense of community in the tenements. Helen Dunbar explains how a new mother would be supported: “She wasn’t left alone with the baby. When the baby arrived somebody would would come out and say ‘I’ve made some soup and I’ll take your bairns away’ or they’d take your washing away and it would come back ironed…. You couldn’t go too steps before some old wife stopped you to give advice and say ‘What a bonnie wee baby you’ve got.’ Or there’d be an old granny who’d heard him and say the next day: ‘Of I heard him last night. That sounds like colic.’”