What improved way to rejoice Women’s Background Month in March than having a peek into the working lives of feminine business office employees in the 1890s?

You likely now know about the Sands & McDougall Directories, those people invaluable volumes that matched streets and their occupants from the mid-1850s right until 1974. Developed per year, they brought with each other a large array of information and are deemed by many the world-wide-web of their working day. By the 1970s, telephone directories took about the role that the Sands and Macs had beforehand played, and now even those people are redundant. Today Sands and Macs are a considerably-applied software for historical investigation. In them you can trace a century of city enhancement through adjustments of residences, areas of business, even suburbs.

The goal was to record each individual head of home, every trade and just about every enterprise in the CBD and the suburbs. Right until I saw this photograph, I had not presented considerably considered to how the directories were being put collectively at the time the collector of the information and facts experienced returned to the company’s amazing Spencer St headquarters. (Indeed, a team of people today walked the streets, knocking on doorways, collecting the details of the occupants.)

Here we have a glimpse of the women of all ages on the business personnel, stacks of internet pages in front of each individual of them, piles of directories stacked up at the stop of each individual extensive desk. They are cross-checking entries for the new version, which ran to 1500 web pages or extra.

At the back is a tiny boy, the messenger lad, I suppose. Alongside the wall on the still left of the impression dangle the women’s hats, cloaks and bags and we can explain to from these that it is summer time. The calendar year is possibly late 1896 or early 1897, for the reason that the signal at the back again tells us that the 1897 Directory is now ready, so the photograph was taken at the tail close of many years of devastating economic despair, a long time in which numerous recordings of “vacant” appeared in the listings of suburban streets.

Numerous of these directories are accessible online by the Condition Library of Victoria, but the Royal Historical Society, based at the Drill Corridor, 239 A’Beckett St, has a extensive run of directories from the 1850s right up until the closing version in 1974, so if you are somebody who likes seeking by means of the “real thing”, why not make time to take a look at? •

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