In 1892, Eliza Orme undertook a painstaking investigation into the working lives of barmaids, producing a report which takes us back to the pubs of the past with incredible vividness.
Eliza Orme was an interesting woman. She was the first woman in England to get a degree in law, in 1888, as Dr Leslie Howsam, who has studied Orme’s life, explains here:
[She] was 39 years old and already unofficially ‘practicing’ law out of an office in London’s Chancery Lane where she and a colleague prepared the paperwork for property transactions, patent registrations, wills, settlements, and mortgages. ‘I “devilled” for about a dozen conveyancing counsel who kept me busily employed on drafts they wanted done in a hurry, and for twenty-five years I found it both an interesting and profitable employment’, Orme recalled in a 1901 interview. This support-level work was the only legal employment open to women, who were not permitted either to be called to the bar or join the Law Society. It was only a small part, however, of Eliza Orme’s reputation as a public figure.
An early feminist, Miss Orme was a firm believer in allowing women to work in whichever industries they chose and was a member of the Society for the Promotion of the Employment of Women.
Through this, she ended up as Senior Lady Assistant Commissioner to the Royal Commission on Labour, overseeing a small team of Lady Assistant Commissioners.
After the Commission decided at a meeting in March 1892 to undertake research into the working lives of women, Orme dispatched her team around the country, from Bristol to the Western Isles, to investigate various industries such as textile mills, chocolate factories and stocking making.