From Nicola Wilson and Helen Southworth, 'Women Workers at the Hogarth Press (c. 1917-25)', forthcoming in Women in Print, vol 2 (Peter Lang)
In November 1922, Leonard and Virginia overheard Marjorie Thomson (Joad) in the 1917 Club declare that she wanted to give up her teaching career and be a woman printer instead. The location of this encounter is important because the Soho-based 1917 club, founded by Leonard Woolf, among others, was a club open to women, unlike most other clubs of the period such as the Athenaeum. As Woolf reports in her diary: 'We overheard one of those usual shabby, loose, cropheaded, small faced bright eyed young women, who was leaning negligently over the sofa side, & chatting with Scott as he drank tea, tell him that she was tired of teaching & meant to become a printer. “They say there’s never been a woman printer; but I mean to be one. No I know nothing whatever about it…&” When she went to the writing room, I followed, plucked her out, & revealed us to her as proprietors of the Hogarth Press'.
Marjorie Thomson (Joad) was of a different generation and a different social world to the Woolfs. When they first met her, she was in her early twenties and working at a private school in Gordon Square. She had studied at the London School of Economics, intended to continue working after her marriage, and Virginia was attracted to Thomson as a professional working woman who has ‘been thoroughly educated [and] must earn her living’. In her diaries, where she often fictionalised friends and associates, Virginia speaks admiringly of ‘a steel thread in [Marjorie] from earning & learning’, and she was captivated by Thomson’s desire for the job. Like Minna Green, whom the Woolfs had briefly contemplated hiring at the Press as a secretary, Thomson was part of what Woolf terms ‘that regiment of the wage earning women’s republic’. Charmed by Thomson’s audacity and perhaps reminded of their own celebrated ‘DIY’ plunge into printing and publishing, they offered her a full time partnership and salary of £100 a year as well as fifty percent of the net profits, paying her at the same rate as her male predecessor (though Partridge worked part time and Thomson was the first full timer).
When Thomson joined the press she was living with the philosopher C. E. M. Joad (as his mistress) and using his name. According to Woolf’s Diaries, Marjorie left Joad in February 1924.
Marjorie Thomson (Joad) was at the press from early 1923 until February 1925, when she resigned. She helped the Woolfs through one of their busiest hand-printing years: five hand-set books in 1923 made it their most active year for printing so far. Like their earliest assistant compositers, Thomson typeset alongside Woolf. She was spending ‘hours standing at the box of type with Margery’, Woolf records in her diary in June 1923. During her first year, Marjorie helped the Woolfs typeset, print and publish E. M. Forster’s Pharos and Pharillon (an ambitious undertaking of nine hundred copies with eighty pages); Herbert Read’s Mutations of the Phoenix; Robert Graves poem The Feather Bed; T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land; and Clive Bell’s The Legend of Monte della Sibilla. At the end of July 1923, for instance, Woolf wrote in her diary that The Waste Land was almost done, giving due credit to their partner in the process: ‘As for the press, we have finished Tom, much to our relief. He will be published this August by Marjorie; & altogether we have worked at full speed since May’.
The relationship between Thomson and the Woolfs took a tumultuous turn at the end of the year when they decided to take on another male partner, George (‘Dadie’) Rylands, to take over their share of the work. Rylands was again of the Bloomsbury set – a graduate of Eton and Cambridge – who wrote to Leonard that he ‘wishes to devote his life to the Hogarth Press’. Anxious of Thomson’s response, Woolf records what happened in her diary when they ‘broke Dadie to her’, using the form of a playscript to distance them all from the scene: M. But I don’t think I shall like that. V. Did you dislike him? M. I shant like being under him. He’d make me typewrite all day. And I suppose I should have to do what he told me? L. He would be in the same position to you that we are.54 In this fascinating re-enactment, it is clear that Marjorie fears Dadie’s appointment might lead to a de-skilling; a shift in her place at the publishers from compositor and publishing partner to more routine secretarial work. This echoes in miniature much wider changes in attitudes to office work over the first half of the twentieth century, as clerical and secretarial labour moved from being seen as a relatively elevated and sought-after (male) profession to ‘low-status “women’s work” with no viable career ladder’. Thomson’s fear, as reported by Woolf, that she would be made to ‘typewrite all day’ suggests an anxiety about typing being her sole responsibility – as well perhaps as the routine office business of day-to-day publishing – that is different to the informality and flexibility she had enjoyed thus far in her role combining typesetting, publishing, and office work.