Roles and Gender

‘Ms Jones’ Itek advert in Printing World 1978. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre
Printed page 'We took our Ms Jones...'

Changes in the printing industry along with discontinued and new processes meant some roles were updated, no longer needed or incorporated into different job areas. The introduction of new technologies led to the dissolving of divisions between some jobs. Some co-ops and radical presses, keen to build skills within the members, were based on the principle of rotating jobs, so that everyone took their turn at the press, in the darkroom, at the paste-up table. In conventional unionised shops, jobs and skills were often kept highly distinct, with no cross-over and very different conditions.

In archive photographs, women are almost always seen packing printed copies into boxes, undertaking aspects of finishing, stamping, collating, stitching and despatching. Some aspects of binding and finishing – once ‘women’s work’ – eventually became special craft-led book-making. Other areas where women were traditionally welcome in the print included admin and accounts. With new technologies involving less heavy machinery welcome changes in attitude – still in progress – also became more widespread.

Printed advert 'Ms Jones likes simple innovations'
‘Ms Jones’ Itek advert in Printing World 1978. Courtesy of Islington Local History Centre
Person at work at Aldgate Press
Gill Rolfe at Aldgate Press in their former premises on Gunthorpe Street E1, 2013. By Colin O’Brien, courtesy of Jan O’Brien

My careers teacher helped me look for apprenticeships, because obviously being female and being that young, it’s not that easy to get into the trade, so she helped me look for places and she gave me a list of organisations that were willing to interview me. I went to a couple but it was pointless going because they basically told me at the interview that they didn’t employ women, so that was a bit of a non-starter. And then I went to a co-op printer’s, which were obviously a bit more open to the idea and they took me on as apprenticeship. I did my City & Guilds while I was working at Lithosphere. And at the end of, I think it was two years, I passed and then they gave me full-time employment at the co-op.

When I worked at Lithosphere we did have another woman printer that came to join us and she was there for maybe a year or so before she moved on so at that time I wasn’t the only female down in the print room, that was quite nice just having another female there for a little while, there was a few of us around but not very many. We were few and far between.

Gill Rolfe
Woman working on printing press
Calverts, 1983. Photo by Vicky Gunn, courtesy of Calverts