Women were rarely seen within a glass making factory before the early 20th Century.
During the First World War, many of the male workers were called up to go and fight for their country. The glass companies attempted to fill their positions with other male workers, but positions often remained unfilled. This is when women first entered the glass industry in larger numbers to fill these roles. The addition of women caused a number of problems because the men whose jobs they had taken believed that when they returned from the war, they would have no job to go back to. Many men disagreed with women replacing them because it was a man’s world. The same thing happened during the Second World War with many women taking the men’s jobs.
After the Second World War women were seen more frequently within the glass industry even though it was still predominately a male industry. Their main roles would have been acid etching and polishing, which were some of the worst jobs within the industry.
Women were not paid the same wage as the men. Stuart Crystal employed women to decorate their enamel fruit bowls. In the early 1930’s they would have been paid 2s.6d. (the equivalent of 12p today) for every dozen bowls they decorated.
Irene Stevens began working for Webb Corbett in 1946 as a designer. This was an unusual move for a glass company, to take on a woman in such an important role. Irene was a qualified designer having recently finished training at the Royal College of Art. The designs which Irene produced were more modern compared with Webb Corbett’s traditional style. Bold, simple cuts which featured with repeated motifs were the main style which Irene designed.
By the 1980’s women began working within other parts of the factory which included the glasshouse and the cutting shop.
Today, women are very much part of the glass industry, particularly in the design and production of studio glass.