Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Dr. R.A. Rempel
When reflecting upon the history of women's employment and commercial advertising, the English gas industry does not usually spring to mind. Historical accounts of the late Victorian years and through the first half of the twentieth century depict the gas industry as being always on the defensive, struggling before the technological triumph of electricity. Such assumptions regarding the teleological march of progress, however, warrant closer examination. In contrast to this accepted view of the gas industry, the most progressive gas managers and engineers developed aggressive marketing techniques, using women as travelling sales personnel and experimenting with mass advertising, long before electricity posed any serious commercial threat. Despite significant interwar electrification, the gas industry expanded its domestic market, supported by a broad consumer base of women in the home cultivated by the industry's home service women. This study focuses on the development of employment opportunities for women in the English gas industry from the 1880s to the 1930s, with a particular emphasis on the city of London. Secondly, it considers the corresponding expansion and diversification of the industry's marketing strategies, and the important role played by women in this process, as both the purveyors and consumers of domestic utility services. Women first entered the gas industry, not as in most businesses as clerical workers, but as professional demonstrators and later, home service women. Nicknamed "lady demons," short for lady demonstrators, these certified cookery teachers instructed ladies, servants and working-class housewives how to use and maintain gas cookers and appliances. As customer service personnel, the gas industry's home service women were highly visible, persuasive advocates for their employers, particularly during the interwar years, as electricity began to present a serious challenge to domestic gas sales. In addition to their public relations role, the home service staff interacted with interwar feminist organizations, engaging in debates over housing standards, school meals and women's health. To date, the historiography of the gas industry in England has addressed what appear to be traditional themes prevalent in business and labour history. These include narratives of technological and corporate progress; debates over market-driven capitalism versus governmental regulated industry; and the successes and failures of late Victorian New Unionism. Collectively, this research locates the English gas industry within the historiography of Victorian industrial development and the consequent struggles between capital and labour. This corpus of scholarship addresses concerns related to the production of gas from coal, but rarely with its consumption. This study offers a contribution to the existing literature by considering the second half of the production/consumption equation, particularly as it pertains to women as the buyers and sellers of public utilities services. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
Clendinning, Anne, "Demons and domesticity: A history of women and the London gas industry, 1889--1939" (1999). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1886.