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Unknown: Metropolitan Gallery in Telegraph Street

Page history last edited by Alexandra Alfred 11 years, 8 months ago

"Metropolitan Gallery in Telegraph Street"


  • Source: The Illustrated London News Picture Library
  • Artist: Unknown
  • Date: November 25th, 1871
  • Description from the Illutrated London News Picture Library:

                    "Women at work in the Metropolitan Gallery in Telegraph St. receiving telegraphs for the London area."



     This image from the Victorian era depicts many young women working in a telegraph office.  I retrieved this picture titled “Metropolitan Gallery in Telegraph Street” circa 1871 from the “Illustrated London News Picture Library” on the web.  Unfortunately, the artist of the picture is unknown.  The description provided on the website indicates that the young women in the picture work in the Metropolitan Gallery building receiving telegraphs for the London area.  Compared to most other accounts of female work that we read (i.e. street selling, mining, maid of all work); receiving telegraphs appears to be relatively easy and safe work.  The working environment, attire, and appearance of the women receiving the telegraphs convey that this is some of the more ideal work for women during this era.


     Working conditions of the telegraph receivers are reminiscent of the way offices are now.  Each person has their own individual work space at a table that comfortably seats three women, and is lit by two overhead lamps.  Windows are wide open without curtains to let in fresh air and sunlight.  The furniture is all reasonably attractive yet simple; the wicker wastebasket in the picture demonstrates this concept nicely.  Overall this creates a clean, comfortable, and well-lit work place.  One woman that is prominently positioned in the picture has a tea cup and saucer on the table while she works – this allows the audience to assume that the working environment is slightly casual, or at least flexible enough to let the women drink tea while they work.


     The way that the workplace is set up, and the manner that the women are working in this environment indicate that the telegraph industry is somewhat informal and desirable place to work.  This experience is distinctively opposite that of the women who worked in coal mines, street-selling, and or being a maid-of-all-work.  Those jobs were much more physically exhaustive, and severely lacking in cleanliness and regard for employees well-being.  One similarity between telegraph receiving and jobs in the tough mining environment is the redundancy of the work.  Both of these jobs require women to do the same mind-numbing task over and over again.  The duties of the head maid are more comparable to the work load, difficulty of work, and work environment of telegraph receivers.


     One aspect of telegraph receiving that cannot be determined by looking at this picture is the length of time spent at work during the day without breaks.  Industrial workers in the Victorian Era put in 12-hour days (at least), even more if working in the mines.  The manner in which the telegraph receivers are dressed and the gentle smiles on their face make it seem like they are not overly tired from their work.  The tea cup on the table also shows that they have the freedom to get items that make them comfortable, or meet their needs of hunger or thirst which is not an option for mine workers.  Assuming that this picture is an accurate representation of telegraph receiving, it appears that the working hours are not excessive, and that these women have access to breaks.


     In this picture the qualities of the work environment match the simple, dainty, and tidy appearance of the women.  In this picture the women have their hair pulled back nicely, and are in long dresses.  All of the telegraph workers are younger females, and their dresses appear fancy to a modern viewer of this picture, but they are actually more of an “everyday” dress.  The attire for this job would be incredibly desirable compared to women working in mines like Mary Barrett who was quoted as wearing nothing but her “chemise”.  The earrings and the hair pins that hold up their massive hair-do’s would not have been acceptable attire in the mines, as they could’ve gotten caught on various tools or stuck in tight crevasses.  Women working as telegraph receivers have plenty of personal space for large dresses, big hair, and fancy jewelry.


     From the attire of the workers, to the comfortable working environment that includes fresh air and sunlight – this position seems ideal for the young Victorian woman.  A head maid’s work is comparable to this work because it is less redundant than receiving telegraphs, but being any sort of maid also seems like it might be more tiring work, as you are on you feet and at the whim of your employer.  In the picture of telegraph receivers, there is one woman standing up looking over the shoulder of a female worker.  Her dominant position in the picture allows the viewer to infer that she is teaching or supervising the woman sitting down.  The woman standing in the picture appears to be the supervisor, and of the same gender and age of the other women working.  This imagery allows for the assumption that the telegraph industry is an entirely female workforce.


     The way this picture presents receiving telegraphs makes the work seem light, dainty, and overall a desirable position for a young Victorian woman to hold.  With the light shining in through open windows, women drinking tea while they work, and the light smiles on their faces – this work is depicted as one of the best positions that a young female eligible for work could get!  This picture was created after the work reforms of the 1830’s, which could be why this workplace is tidy and the woman appear to be contented with their jobs.  Even by today’s standards, the working environment seems conducive for creating happy and healthy workers.




Works Cited


Drawing retrieved from website address: http://www.ilnpictures.co.uk/ProductDetails.asp?ProductDetailID=70057#

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