WOMEN’S PRINTING SOCIETY, (LIMITED) 213. Great College Street, Westminster. [London, n.d. but before 1893.]

1893. Small printed advertising card, 75 x 114mm, printed on one side only; card a little browned and soiled but otherwise very good. An early trade card for the Women’s Printing Society, founded in 1876. Located at this stage in Great College Street, the business later moved in 1893 to Whitcomb Street, close to Trafalgar Square, after a fire. The card advertises the printing of ‘books, pamphlets, periodicals, circulars, programmes, &c., &c., Estimates given on the shortest notice, Work promptly executed’.
Founded by Mrs Emma Paterson (1848-1886), the WPS aimed to give women an opportunity of working in the printing trade, at a time when, like most professions, it was considered to be exclusively male and indeed printing unions forbade their members from training or hiring women. ‘Yet it was considered that all aspects of printing, except for one stage that involved heavy lifting, were suited to the skills regarded as innate in the contemporary gendered view of women. For instance, their nimble fingers were thought quick at picking out and setting up type and their steady care suited to proof-reading. Sixteen years earlier a similar operation, the Victoria Press, had been launched by Emily Faithfull (1835–1895), but it had not maintained its original promise, closing in 1882’ (online BL article on The Women’s Printing Society, by Elizabeth Crawford). Offering attractive working conditions and hours suited to women, the WPS was a co-operative, with shareholders and workers sharing the profits. It was clearly an agreeable place of work, the Pall Mall Gazette noting in 1912 that several of the 45 women then employed had been there for over 30 years.
‘The directors of the Women’s Printing Society changed over the years but at one time they included Sarah Prideaux, a renowned arts and crafts bookbinder, Agnes Zimmermann, German-born pianist and composer, and her close friend, Lady Louisa Goldsmid, supporter of many feminist causes. Indeed, it was the growth of interest in these causes that accounted for the initial success of the firm, it being the obvious choice as printer of the rapidly increasing number of feminist books, papers and annual reports. For instance, in the 19th century, among a plethora of publications, the firm printed Swimming and its Relation to the Health of Women, a pamphlet by Mrs Frances Hoggan, one of the first women doctors; between 1891 and 1893 the feminist newspaper The Women’s Penny Paper and its successor The Woman’s Herald; in 1894 Mrs Millicent Fawcett’s speech, Home and Politics; and in 1895 The Citizenship of Women Socially Considered, Louisa Shore’s careful account of the contemporary position of women’ (ibid). It was also the printer for both of the main women’s suffrage societies. It finally ceased business in 1955.

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