Martha Martin (b.1871): Life & Labour [1/3] – Writing Lives

Martha Martin (b.1871): Life & Labour [1/3]

But when you can combine the two, then it is enjoyable as you do not mind how hard you work if there is a pleasure at the end of it

Martha Martin, ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’, p.180

In ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’, Martha understands the importance of labour, having seen her father work various jobs throughout her childhood (he was a gardener by trade but worked as a mole and rat catcher and a market seller who owned donkeys when Martha was a teenager). In my Education & Schooling post,    ,I wrote about how Martha put her education on hold in order to care for her siblings and help her father earn a living.

As I mentioned in my Home & Family post, Martha leaves her home and family when she turns 15 to begin working life. Before this, she helps her father tend to a donkey he buys, and sells items from their garden at the market. Of this experience, she writes ‘we kids sure did have to work, every minute we had out of school hours we were picking fruit, minding the donkey or something of the kind, we did not have much time for play’ (49). It was not only her leisure time which suffered, she suggests: ‘we went to market to make a living, and yet came back worse than we went’ (55).

Of women, Martha writes that ‘all she sees before her is to be a maid or as they say servant, and that seems to be the height of ambition amongst the working class of England’ (58). Andrew August writes ‘women combined unpaid domestic work with wage earning’ (1999, 199) and this is evident as, following her 15th birthday, Martha ‘went to work for (Mrs Austin) at the large amount of £11 a week’ (60). Whilst working for Mrs Austin, Martha regularly attends church and reads the Bible ‘every day or twice a day’ (61). Martha stayed at this particular job ‘about nine months’ (63) and then she goes to work for a family in Wolverhampton, though an injury to her hand at work means she is ‘taken back home with them’ (64).

She then goes on to work for another family, the Griffiths, for ‘over three years’ (72). Regarding her time working for Mrs Austin and Mrs Griffiths, she says ‘I realise that the training I got from Mrs Austin and Mrs Griffiths laid the foundation of my life’ (75). Martha works for another family, though her job is cut short when her father dies when she is 22.

In the second part of my Life & Labour posts, I will be discussing Martha’s experience of ‘Hotel Life’ when she works as a waitress throughout her twenties. I have loved reading about Martha’s life and labour and I hope you have, too.


August, Andrew. Poor Women’s Lives: Gender, Work and Poverty in Late Victorian London. London: Associated University Presses, 1999.

Martin, Martha. ‘The Ups and Downs of Life’. Burnett Archives of Working Class Autiobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collections Library 1:499.

Previous Posts:







Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.