Just over a hundred years ago, the Seamen’s Hospital Society’s Committee agreed upon the employment of laboratory girls. Prior to this, position of laboratory assistants were given to men, however due to conscription during the First World War the number of men available to work dropped dramatically, hence this encouraged employers, including the Seamen’s Hospital Society, to employ women. Originally established as part of the Seamen’s Hospital Society until 1921, the London School of Tropical Medicine was opened in 1899 and located at the Albert Dock. In 1924, the School had been given its Royal Charter and was now known as London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and was no longer affiliated with the Seamen’s Hospital Society. The Committee’s decision’s affected both the Seamen’s Hospital and the London School of Tropical Medicine.
In the Committee minutes for the 9th of December 1915, they note that their remaining laboratory assistant, Mr C Berry, had been called up for War Service and that it would be extremely unlikely that they would be able to replace him, therefore Professor Hewlett suggested that a woman be employed until the war ceased. It suggested that a Mrs Lee, a Bachelor of Science student at the University of London and had training in the pathological laboratories at King’s College Hospital, take up the position with a pay of one guinea per week until January the 31st and then increasing to two guineas per week; in 2015 this would be an increase from £108.20 to £216.41 per week. During the meeting it was also decided that the pay of two other laboratory assistants, Jane and Louise, be increased from 5/ to 8/, in 2015 this would be an increase from £25.76 to £41.22 per week.
Jane and Louise were not the only women to see a pay rise, the Committee minutes also noted that due to the lack of women an increase of pay of 2/ 6d (£12.88) to the laundry scrubbers and 1/ (£5.15) for maids was to be introduced. Porters and nurses were also given a wage increase during the War to accommodate for the lack of men and inflation of living costs.
The group photo below shows the laboratory girls Jane and Louise (middle row right and left respectively).