Bringing you some female firsts from our archives
Since the conception of the ‘railways’ in 1863 – known as the Underground in the present day – women have played an important role in the day-to-day running of our network. In the early days, women were mainly employed as charwomen, ladies room attendants and lavatory attendants, as well as carrying out office and administrative work on the tramways. As women’s rights improved, so did employment opportunities.
Delve into the archives to discover the individual women who paved the way for others on our network. While our early staff registers are a great resource for anyone wanting to identify these women, unfortunately not all of these registers have survived over the years. Without further ado, here are the female firsts found on our records!
Meet the women that made history
The early days
A Clark was a charwoman at Bishops Road (later known as Paddington) station on 10 August 1863, just seven months after the station opened. She worked for 23 years until her death in 1886.
E Wilding was also employed as a charwoman at King’s Cross station on 3 January 1870. She worked for 18 years until her death in 1888.
Lizzie Thomson was employed in the offices of the London Tramway Company in Camberwell in 1893. She began her career filling boxes and completing and checking conductors’ waybills.
Ms Penman was employed in the offices of the London Tramway Company as a supervisor. She was described as ‘no ordinary woman’ as she engaged and dealt with all of the conductors in the company.
C Rivers started in the ticket office of the London General Omnibus Company in June 1894. She worked for 42 years.
Maud Dott began her 60-year career at the Effra Road ticket printing works in 1913. She retired in 1973.
Elsie Prossner was the first woman booking clerk. She was employed in the District Railway in 1915 and was the daughter of a depot inspector.
Elsie Spencer was born in 1898 and began her 40-year career in the Chiswick ticket office in 1918. When interviewed in 1976 for the staff magazine, Elsie explained that she spent much of the 1920s fighting to improve working conditions for women. She became a member of the Railway Clerks Association (before it became the TSSA) and was the first female member of the TSSA Sectional Committee. Additionally, Elsie fought a 10-year battle to enable women to join the organisation’s pension fund.
G Duncan was officially employed as the first female bus conductor with the Tilling Company on 1 November 1915.
The effect of war on female employment
Florence Parr was a clippie in both world wars. She began as a conductor on the Metropolitan Trams out of Edmonton during World War I. In 1952, she became the first female conductor to reach the age of 60 and retired five years later.
Ellen Irvin was the first female ticket clerk at Sloane Square station in May 1940.
Doris L. Wright was one of the first batch of women sent out to issue tickets at Walham Green station – now Fulham Broadway – in May 1940.
Daisy Kettle joined the London Passenger Transport Board as a member of the engineering staff in 1941. She was one of a small group of women trained and qualified as a class A bus driver in 1943. She was trained to take passenger-less buses out on journeys away from the garage, as well as moving them between garages and parking.
Dolores Rennie claimed the honour of being the first female bus driver in a press article of 1967. She ferried passenger-less buses from garage to garage starting in 1944 during the war. However, records show that a Kathleen Healey and Jes Jewiss were both driving buses almost two years earlier on 15 May 1942.
Dorothy McKenzie (Right) was our very first driver of a road vehicle. She used to distribute timetable bills and frames along the roads of Kent from April 1941.
Amy Walbanke was the first female lengthman in the permanent way gangs. She was part of the first group of female electricians at Chiswick Works along with Emma Rose. This group helped to build and construct the Halifax Bomber, with female engineers in aircraft factories significantly outnumbering their male counterparts.
Olive Robinson became the first woman to pass the Permanent Way exam with a merit grade in August 1957. This is an exam in the different disciplines of railway engineering. Those who passed were allowed to work on the technical aspects of train tracks. When asked why she took the exam, Olive replied ‘curiosity’.
T Simpton became the first woman to pass the Ticket Inspector exam in June 1959.
Winifred Harrison became the first woman to become a secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union at a London bus garage in June 1964. She had joined the company as a conductor 11 years before this.
Mary Doolan came top of the class with a distinction in the Railway Voluntary Class exam in November 1967. This exam covered all the administrative duties of a Station Master.
Growing responsibilities for women
Evelyn Denington was the first female Chair of Greater London Council’s Transport Committee, making her the capital’s first female Transport Minister. In an article from 1973 staff magazines, she noted that the ‘first feminine touch I should like to bring to London Transport is women bus drivers.’
Olive Hall became the first woman to achieve the Conductor’s Medal in November 1971.
Norah King became the first woman to be appointed as principal assistant to the Appointments and Welfare Officer. Nora said: ‘To tell you the truth, I’ve never been all that interested in women’s lib!’
Jill Viner officially became the first female bus driver in June 1974. She got the license needed to carry passengers.
Rose Alexander became the first female bus inspector in August 1974.
Doris Pitts was the first black female bus driver in London. 32-year-old Scots-Jamaican Doris applied to become a driver in November 1974. She was required to work as a conductress first (unlike men who were recruited directly into the role) and fulfilled that role for nine months. She then applied to drive again and was accepted. After training, she began driving in October 1975.
Maureen Rogers became the first woman to operate a bus alone correcting the term OMO (One Man Operation) to OWO (One Woman Operation). That happened in March 1977.
Hannah Dadds qualified as the first female Tube driver in October 1978. Together with her sister Edna, a guard, the pair formed the first all-woman crew.
Willamina Bird became the first woman to drive a new Metrobus in January 1979.
Susan Atyeo became the first woman signal operator on the Underground in August 1979.
Marina Leaves, a machine apprentice at Chiswick Works, was the first female apprentice to win the Robert Ledwith award for the apprentice making the most progress in their first year in 1982.
Kathy Clabby became the first female Station Master in August 1983.
Helen Clifford became the first female bus mechanic in August 1984. She was one of the most famous female mechanics at the time, with an Australian drama basing one of their characters on her.
Maggie Goldsmith was recognised as the youngest female bus driver in service in October 1984 at the age of 21.
Jeanne Hardy became the first female training instructor in 1984. Jan collected a few female firsts throughout her career including being promoted to senior instructor. She later became one of the first batch of female Centurion group station managers. She took on management of the Piccadilly and Regents Park group of stations in February 1979.
Betty Stacy became the first female gold-badge bus inspector in January 1985.
Elizabeth Stuart became the first female blue-badge guide for London Transport Tours in January 1986.
Ann Blackburn made history by becoming the first female line manager in the organisation. She was appointed line manager of the Jubilee line in November 1988. She managed the District line in 1993, winning a Railway Heritage Award for the Gloucester Road station restoration. Ann was the brains behind the 1994 Clean Car Scheme, which saw heavily vandalised tube carriages taken out of service and all minor marks being cleaned within 24 hours.
Jill Postlethwaite was a signal and installation technician, who became the first woman in the country to obtain a competency licence from the Institution of Railway Signal Engineers in May 1994.
Nadine Coleman and Jane Butt became the first women to work within the Emergency Response Unit operations team in June 1997.
Joan Saunders-Reece may well have accumulated the most career female firsts, laying claim to the first female train operator on the Victoria line, first female fleet instructor, and first female Emergency Response Unit manager. She recalls how upon hearing a female voice making announcements, many passengers couldn’t believe a woman drove the train. People would come to the cab window once they’d reached their destination to check they weren’t hearing things!
Recruiting women from the Caribbean
Our female firsts story is far from complete. In the aftermath of the war, serious labour shortages led to London Transport recruiting from the Caribbean in 1956. The handful of women included in this recruitment scheme became the first black women to work for the network.
Among them was Gloria Bailey, who began her career as a clippie in the 1950s.
Agatha Claudette Hart who worked as a bus conductor for London Transport at Stockwell bus garage in 1962.
And Paula Maynard who was a bus inspector in 1976.
Explore more of the TfL Corporate Archives
Do you know of any women we may have missed? As we make new discoveries, we will continue to add to this piece of ongoing research. Obviously, it’ll be much easier for us in the archives team if we receive help and ideas from you…
Help us add to our growing list of female firsts! Leave us your comments below.
The early staff registers are available on our digital collections online. Check them out to see if you can find a woman employed on the network earlier than August 1863!
Discover more about key moments in time for women in transport.