Women Working for Sainsbury's

staff from 51 the broadway, ealing in 1912
Staff from 51 The Broadway, Ealing in 1912/13
The first woman to work at Sainsbury's was Mary Ann Sainsbury who is said to have run the first shop by herself to begin with, building up the trade while her husband, John James, worked out his notice with George Gillett, the grocer who employed him at the time of their marriage.

In general, however, shopkeeping was regarded as a man's job and opportunities for women were limited. The photograph of staff at Sainsbury's Ealing branch in 1912 shows the main types of jobs available.

The ladies in the back row to either side of the manager in the middle were clerks. They sat behind the mahogany screen at the rear of the shop and took the payment for customers' purchases. They would also do the paperwork for the shop. This freed the manager from these duties and allowed him to be available to customers.

Women were also employed as housekeepers and maids. The woman at the front of the picture is the housekeeper. Most of the young male staff lived above the shop, and the housekeeper's role was to manage their hostel. This included:

  • Catering for the staff, ensuring that they were provided with breakfast, dinner and supper.
  • Ensuring that the bed linen and uniforms for the staff were clean and in good repair.
  • Ensuring that all the rooms were kept clean and tidy.
  • Ensuring the security of the hostel.

The housekeepers also looked after the health of the boys who lived in. This might mean a daily dose of cod liver oil in the winter, or sending them back to bed when they were not fit for work. Sometimes the housekeeper would have to stand up to the manager, who wanted a boy back at work.

Copyright J Sainsbury plc, 2000.