Women Shop Workers, Water Street

(From the Women's History Walking Tour Booklet)

Many working class women contributed to the family income by working in the shops which dotted Water Street during the early 20th century. Dry goods, millinery, grocery and drapery stores, and large multi-purpose stores such as Ayres, sought young, single, female workers.

Water Street, pre-1892
Water Street, pre-1892
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (Geography Collection 137, Photo 2121), Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

Work options for women were few, and being a shop clerk was generally seen as less demanding and dirty labour than factory or fish plant work. Sales work was largely unskilled and paid low wages. In 1921, over 400 women worked in sales, not counting those employed in smaller grocery and confectionary stores in the city.

Shop facade, ca. 1920s
Shop facade, ca. 1920s
Courtesy of Archives and Special Collections (Geography Collection 137, Photo 250), Queen Elizabeth II Library, Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL.

In 1938, the Newfoundland Protective Association of Shop and Office Employees was formed. Forty per cent of the membership were women, and the first Vice-President was Amelia Fogwill.

Most women gave up their paid labour when they married, in line with the conventions of the day.