The Women who worked in Guinness

Among the many fascinating chapters in the story of Guinness is that of its female employees. When Guinness was founded, brewery industries may have been dominated by men but even during its earliest days women made up a small but significant part of the Guinness workforce. Over time as society progressed, so too did the opportunities for women in St. James’ Gate and beyond. Delving into the Guinness archives, we explore the contributions of the women who worked in Guinness.

The Early Years

While brewing roles were largely reserved for men when Guinness was founded, women were employed in the nursing and domestic positions at St. James’ Gate from its earliest days. Established in the 1870s, the Guinness Medical Department had a largely female workforce that was responsible for the health of brewery employees and their families and saw approximately 60,000 visits every year by the 1940s. In keeping with the company’s commitment to workers beyond the proverbial ‘9-5’, a dedicated midwife role was created in 1904 to care for the pregnant wives of brewery staff. Meanwhile, the first female physiotherapist was appointed in 1923 to care for men who sustained injuries. Speaking about her role in 1949, Mrs P. Skinner claimed, “I have been asked by many what is my job in the Brewery and when I reply ‘Physiotherapist,’ I am met with a polite ‘Oh,’ and a look of obvious mystification. When I elucidate slightly and say ‘Masseuse,’ there is often a faint glimmer of understanding”.

Domestic staff roles were also largely occupied by women during this time who were responsible for the catering, cleaning and laundering work within the brewery. In 1904 in an effort to support brewery widows, Guinness began a policy of favouring them for these domestic roles. This often allowed the widows to supplement their pension while holding a position that didn’t consume the whole working day so they could continue to look after their families.

Female Clerks

From the early 1900s women found employment in the brewery offices - the nerve centre of the day-to-day administration of Guinness. In July 1900, some of the first female clerks were hired by Guinness - on the condition that they had a close male relative who was already working in the brewery. As such the role of a female superintendent was created, duly called ‘Lady Superintendent’. She was responsible for recruiting and managing female staff, including mitigating fears from male management - namely, that these young & unmarried women were stalking the corridors of St. James’ Gate for prospective suitors.

The War Years

Both World Wars had a significant impact on the roles women occupied within the workforce. During World War One, the number of women employed in clerical roles increased by 334%. Meanwhile, The Guinness Brewery in Park Royal, London began operations just three years before World War Two broke out in 1939. As was the case across the continent, the lack of male labour necessitated hiring women in traditionally male roles and women soon found employment in the brewhouse, vathouses and cooperage in Park Royal. When the war ended in 1945 and men returned to their old positions a number of women opted to keep their roles in the brewery regardless.

At the Forefront of Change

WW2 heralded an era of change and Guinness was no exception. While prior to 1939 women were required to resign from Guinness once they got married, at Park Royal female staff were permitted (if they desired) to continue working after marriage. Changes like these in addition to progress in society at large meant that by the 1940s and 1950s women began to gain employment in roles beyond secretarial and clerk positions. Trailblazing women began to shine across departments. In 1955 before she would go on to become the Director of Statistics at the Home Office and later the first female President of the Royal Statistical Society, Stella Cunliffe became the head of the statistics department in St. James’ Gate. Similarly, by 1974 three of eleven computer programmers at Guinness were women.

Women in the Guinness Family: Olivia Whitmore

While Arthur Guinness tends to take most of the spotlight in the founding of Guinness, it’s interesting to note the support he had from his heiress wife, Olivia Whitmore, which enabled him to begin brewing at St. James’ Gate. Arthur Guinness didn’t come from a particularly wealthy background, so with her dowry of £1,000, Olivia’s financial contribution doubtless proved substantial in helping him with the lease for the brewery among other expenses related to beginning the business. Money aside, marriage to Olivia also brought with it valuable connections and access to the gentry in Dublin and beyond which proved greatly beneficial to the family, the enterprise and its eventual legacy.



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