By 1901, women dominated the new occupation of shorthand
typist - development of the technology coinciding with their availability
for office work. Some argued that women were naturally more dextrous
than men in using the typewriter. Perhaps more importantly, they were
cheaper to employ.
In 1901, the Registrar General's Department decided to increase its
staff of female typists and use them to replace boy copyists. Catherine
Beechcroft was recommended by the manager of the Remington Company and
appointed on a temporary basis.
Female typists were first employed by a government department on an
experimental basis in 1890. In 1894, the Treasury pronounced that 'women
typists have proved themselves an efficient and economical form of labour',
although 'copying with the aid of a machine
is not difficult',
so their pay should be 'moderate'. At 16s per week, a typist's starting
pay was, the Registrar General noted, 'not such as to tempt applicants'.
Female civil servants were expected to resign if they married: 'Continuous
and effective service is the first condition of permanent employment
under the State, and a woman, as wife and mother, cannot be expected
to work for the State continuously and effectively, and her service
must therefore cease on marriage.' This applied not only to the Civil
Service, but also to local government, teaching and the banking sector
- although not usually to manual workers - until the labour shortages
of the Second World War made it impractical to enforce.