Women’s Paid Employment
Cosnadh Pàighte Bhoireannaich

A thuilleadh air an uallaichean troma an lùib dhleastanasan dachaigheil, bha mòran bhoireannaich le Gàidhlig agus an teaghlaichean an eisimeil cosnadh pàighte bhoireannaich taobh a-muigh na dachaigh. Bha na bhathar a’ faicinn gu bhith na chosnadh freagarrach do bhoireannaich a’ ciallachadh gun robh iad air an cuimseachadh ann an roinnean àraid den mhargaid obrach agus air an cumail a-mach bho fheadhainn eile, ged a dh’atharraich  dianachd seo rè ùine, le sgaradh gnèitheil nas fhaicsinnich suas gu deireadh an 19mh linn na bha e na bu thràithe. Tha obair bhoireannaich doirbh a lorg aig amannan ann an clàr eachdraidheil a tha fo smachd fhireannaich agus tha eachdraidh an eòlais a fhuair boireannaich le Gàidhlig mu bheatha sa bhaile-mhòr, fhathast ri sgrìobhadh. B’ e Màiri NicPhàrlain a’ chiad bhoireannach de a lethid a nochd air roile-pàighidh na comhairle, aithnichte mar ‘Highland Mary’, a bha air a fastadh le borgh Ghlaschu mar ‘oifigear’ na comhairle airson sgìre nan Gorbals eadar 1697 agus 1709

In addition to their heavy burden of domestic duties many Gaelic-speaking women and their families depended on paid female employment outside the home. Gendered expectations of what was suitable employment for women meant they were concentrated in certain sectors of the labour market and excluded from others, although the intensity of this varied over time with gender division more marked towards the end of the 19th century than it had been in some earlier periods. Women’s work is sometimes hard to trace in the male-dominated historical record and the history of Gaelic women’s experience of urban life has yet to be written. The earliest to appear on the council pay-roll was one Màiri NicPhàrlain (Mary Macfarlane), known as ‘Highland Mary’, who was employed by the burgh of Glasgow as its ‘officer’ for the Gorbals between 1697 and 1709.

Chrissie MacDonald (Chrissie Dhòmhnaill Sheoc) from the car-less island of Scarp in Harris was typical of many women from the Western Isles who made their way to the mainland to work in service with families. In the early 1960s she worked in Glasgow as a housekeeper for a member of the Lang whisky family. The leafy surroundings of Hughenden Drive and the wonderfully appointed vehicle parked outside the house could hardly have been more of a contrast to her island home.

Bha boireannaich glè thric an sàs ann am buidhnean teaghlaich agus uaireannan bha aca rin gabhail thairis an dèidh bàs an cèile. Am measg nan eisimpleirean tha Agnes Chaimbeul bhon 17mh linn agus Anna Orr bhon 18mh linn, gach aon dhiubh a chùm an gnothachas teaghlaich clò-bhualaidh agus gnothachas reic-leabhraichean a’ dol às dèidh bàs an cèile, gan obrachadh gu soirbheachail airson deicheadan de bhliadhnaichean, foillseachadh leabhraichean ann an Gàidhlig agus Beurla. Tha àireamh de Ghàidheil clàraichte mar òstairean sa bhaile agus bha an traidisean Gàidhealach san 17mh agus 18mh linn gun tigeadh òstairean do chuideachd an aoighean airson deoch is fealla-dhà, a’ ciallachadh gun robh a’ mhòr-chuid den obair a’ tuiteam air am mnathan agus na searbhantan.

Chunnaic am meudachadh mòr ann an imrich bho thràth san 19mh linn, boireannaich agus gu h-àraid boireannaich òga, a’ tighinn bhon Ghàidhealtachd don bhaile-mhòr ann an àireamhan mòra a lorg obair mar shearbhantan dachaigheil no mar saor-shaothair ann am factaraidhean obair-aodaich is eile. Bha faisg air aon-sealbhachd aig boireannaich Ghàidhealach air gealachadh. Uaireannan, bha an obair sheusanail coltach ri obair thaighean-òsta, glè thric bha an gluasad maireannach. Bha meas air obair banaltramachd agus cha b’ ann dìreach airson na h-òigridh. Ghluais am bard ainmeil às an Eilean Sgitheanach, Màiri Nic a’ Phearsain (Màiri Mhòr nan Òran c.1821 – 1898) a Ghlaschu ann an 1872, aig aois mu 50 bliadhna a thrèanadh mar bhanaltram ann an Ospadal Rìoghail Ghlaschu far an robh i ag obair fad bhliadhnaichean. Tron 20mh linn, dh’fhuirich banaltramachd mar roghainn a bha air a mheas do bhoireannaich às a’ Ghàidhealtachd agus na h-Eileanan, mar a chithear anns an nobhail Raonaid (1981) aig Chrissie Dick, a rugadh ann an Glaschu, mu nighean às na h-eileanan a’ tighinn a Ghlaschu a thrèanadh mar bhanaltram.

Women were often involved in family firms and were sometimes obliged to take them over on the death of their husbands. Examples include the 17th-century Agnes Campbell and 18th-century Anna Orr who each carried on family printing and bookselling businesses following their husbands’ deaths, operating them with success for decades, publishing books in Gaelic and English. A number of Gaels are on record as inn-keepers in the city and the 17th- and 18th -century Highland expectation that landlords would join their guests in drinking and conviviality meant that the bulk of the labour fell to their wives and servants.

The great increase in migration from the early 19th century saw women, especially young women, come from the Highlands to the city in large numbers to find work as domestic servants or as cheap labour in textile and other factories. Highland women had a near monopoly on bleaching. Sometimes the work was seasonal, as in the hotel trade, often the move was permanent. Nursing was a favoured occupation, and not just for the young. The famous Skye poet, Màiri Mhòr nan Òran (‘Great Mary of the Songs’, Mary MacPherson, c.1821 – 1898) moved to Glasgow in 1872, aged about 50, to train as a nurse in midwifery at Glasgow Royal Infirmary where she worked for some years. Throughout the 20th century nursing remained a popular choice for women from the Highlands and islands, as reflected in Glasgow-born Chrissie Dick’s novel Raonaid (1981) about a girl coming from the islands to Glasgow to train as a nurse.

Bha boireannaich le Gàidhlig ag atharrachadh a rèir nan cothroman caochlaideach sa mhargaid obrach. Tro WWI, thug am Bòrd Malairt mu 100 nighean à Steòrnabhagh a Ghlaschu airson obair dheatamach àirneis-cogaidh a choileanadh. Gus dèiligeadh le feumalachdan sochairean is sòisealta nam boireannach sin, chaidh Club Obraichean Àirneis Cogaidh nan Nigheanan Gàidhealach a chur air bhonn ann an 1916 agus mhair e gu co-dhiù  1925. Bha cunntasan mionaideach de a choinneamhan agus òraidean le òraidichean air aoigheachd, air am foillseachadh ann am pàipearan-naidheachd Gàidhealach. Tha an leabhar gheàrr-chunntasan fhathast ri fhaotainn ann an tasglannan an Oilthighe.

Gaelic women adapted to the changing opportunities of the job market. During WWI the Board of Trade brought about 100 girls from Stornoway to Glasgow to perform essential munitions work. To meet the social and welfare needs of these workers, the Highland Girls Club Munitions Workers was founded in 1916 and lasted until at least 1925. Detailed accounts of its meetings and the talks by invited speakers were published in Highland newspapers. Its minute book survives in the University’s archives.

This article is taken from the edition of the People's Journal published on 26 February 1916. Reproduced with kind permission from ambaile.org.uk

Ghabh an t-Oilthigh a’ chiad oileanaich bhoireann ann an 1892 agus cho luath ’s a bha Gàidhlig air a thairgsinn mar chuspair oifigeil ann an 1906, chaidh a ghabhail le boireannaich agus fireannaich. Mar a bha cothrom air foghlam Oilthighe a’ fàs nas fharsainge tron 20mh linn, chùm boireannaich le Gàidhlig air adhart a’ tighinn a Ghlaschu airson foghlam àrd-ìre agus lean iad orra ann an raon a bha a’ sìor fhàs de dhreuchdan. Tha teagasg an toiseach ann am Beurla agus gu mòr a-nis tro mheadhan na Gàidhlig, a’ fuireach na roghainn air a bheil meas mar a tha craoladh. Do mhòran de luchd-labhairt na Gàidhlig san àm a dh’fhalbh, b’ e Beurla cànan an àite-obrach agus ged as dòcha gu bheil seo fìor fhathast sa mhòr-chuid, tha raon a tha a’ sìor fhàs de chothroman ann do Ghàidheil gu an cànan a chleachdadh nan cosnadh.

The University admitted the first female students in 1892 and as soon as Gaelic was first offered as an official subject, in 1906, it was taken up by both women and men. As access to University education widened throughout the 20th century Gaelic-speaking women continued to come to Glasgow for higher education and stayed on in an ever-widening range of occupations. Teaching, in English at first, increasingly now, through the medium of Gaelic, remains a popular option, as does broadcasting. For many Gaelic-speakers in the past, the language of the work-place was English, while this is perhaps still true for the majority, there are an increasing range of opportunities for Gaels to use the language in their employment.