Work-Family Conflict in the Victorian British Post Office

Kathleen McIlvenna, University of Derby

The British Civil Service at the end of the nineteenth century could be seen as a family-friendly employer for its time, particularly for those who worked for the British Post Office. For men, a job was seen as a secure role for life, and though women were expected to leave upon getting married, they were granted a marriage gratuity. All established postal workers had access to medical professionals and, for the lower paid, treatment was free. There was also generous sick pay arrangements, and a non-contributory final salary pension scheme. Parents would encourage their children to join the Post Office and politicians celebrated what social scientists would today call the ‘work-life culture’ due to the range of benefits provided to employees. However, we know that workers frequently disagreed, campaigning for changes to pensions, salary and working conditions to improve prospects for their families and their own health and wellbeing. This paper will examine the impact of work at the British Post Office on its employees’ family. Using evidence collated as part of the Wellcome Trust funded Addressing Health research project it will utilise a life course perspective focusing on the moment workers left the service. J. Glass has demonstrated how this approach has been used by social scientists when exploring the themes of work and family, using the timings of life and work involvement and their impact on future events, and this paper will apply some of these ideas to the historical sources. By focusing on the time an individual left the postal service due to either marriage, ill health or old age, this paper will use worker testimonies from parliamentary papers and oral histories alongside data from pension records and the census to examine the impact of this policy for the individual and their family.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 23. Household Structure and Kinship Networks