Watch 'ladies working in the bindery at Thomas Nelsons' (42 sec - Silent Film)
Printing and papermaking provided occupational mobility for men, but roles allocated to women were more restrictive. Apart from brief periods (1860 to 1909 and during both World wars), it was practically unheard of for women to be employed within the main print house or papermill machine house. In printing firms, most worked in the bindery where their role was to collate, fold and hand sew books. In papermills women worked mainly in the ‘salle’ or overhauling department where paper was quality checked before being sent to customers. Women workers did not undergo the same intensive apprenticeship given to male counterparts. They learned on the job, often employed straight from school. Hours were long and wages low in comparison to men. Females were often paid piece rate; receiving a bonus depending on the number of items they completed per week.
As female labour was often used to undercut male wages, the response frequently was to exclude them from traditional male spheres of work. In 1909 female compositors were banned from entry into the trade by an agreement between the union and the employers. Female unions were encouraged where there was no threat to the male workforce. For a comprehensive account of the period between 1860 and 1909 where women were employed as compositors in many Edinburgh firms please see Sian Reynold's 1989 book Britannica's Typesetters published by Edinburgh University Press.