Women and Work in the City of London, 1870-1970

Coupon Department of Barings Bank c1920

Coupon Department of Barings Bank c1920

© Baring Archive

Supervisory team: Rowena Olegario and Catherine Schenk (Faculty of History, University of Oxford) and Clara Harrow (Head Archivist, Baring Archive Ltd.)

Open-Oxford-Cambridge AHRC DTP-funded Collaborative Doctoral Award at the University of Oxford, in partnership with the Baring Archive Ltd.

Working primarily with the Baring Archive’s historical personnel files, this project seeks to understand the characteristics of the women who sought white-collar employment in the financial sector from 1873 to the 1960s. Past scholarship on women in the City of London has focused on female investors, or individual women executives at the very top of their organisations. Despite the impressive surge in scholarship on the history of working women in Britain, the topic of female white-collar workers in the financial sector remains under-researched. We are also concerned with discovering how the nature of office work changed – for example, through new office technologies and procedures – and how the changes may have affected women and men differently. Within these broad parameters, the doctoral candidate will have the opportunity to define her/his specific research questions.

This CDA has the potential to break important new ground in the history of women and work, and the social and cultural history of the City of London. Female staff first arrived at Baring Brothers merchant bank in 1873, a full twenty years before the Bank of England began employing women and over forty years before women began working for other City banks such as London County Westminster, a predecessor of NatWest. The first eight women worked in Baring Brothers’ Coupon Department, checking and sorting the interest paid to bondholders. Who were the women who chose to pursue a job at Barings, where did they come from, and what criteria were used to hire them? Once hired, what were their individual and collective experiences within Baring Brothers (later Barings Bank)?

The successful applicant will have a good first degree in History or a closely related subject, with an interest in social, cultural, banking, women’s and/or labour history. Experience working in archives is useful, but the project will provide training and guidance in this area.

Baring Archive Ltd was formed in 2008 as a charitable trust, to ensure that the archive of the former Barings Bank was preserved and made accessible. Housed in the City of London, the Baring Archive is one of the most complete records of a financial institution anywhere in the world. It contains material spanning the establishment of the merchant house of John & Francis Baring in 1762 to the firm’s acquisition by ING in 1995. In recent years the Baring Archive has embarked on a strategy to make its records accessible to researchers around the world. Alongside the digitisation of documents, the Archive is reviewing and updating its catalogues to ensure that records can be used productively by researchers today and in the future. Extensive use of the records by researchers would help Barings' archivists improve the accuracy of finding aids and suggest more appropriate terms and categories for materials in the collection. Like many British institutions, the Baring Archive seeks to diversify its user base. The CDA would make the collections known to academics beyond financial and economic history and encourage use of the materials by researchers in women’s history and labour history, among others.

The successful candidate will have priority access to the Baring Archive, ongoing bespoke training from the archivist on how to access and use the collection, and access to a network of other banking archives in the City of London. The project will provide an invaluable insight into how business archives are organised and an opportunity to contribute to opening up the archive to a wider audience through a variety of channels. The successful candidate would also have the opportunity to contribute to outreach programmes, which draw on history to deepen the public’s understanding of the issues facing the financial sector. The research would provide an opportunity to engage with ING and Barings (the asset management business of Barings Bank, acquired by MassMutual and headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina). The successful candidate would contribute to diversity and inclusion initiatives within those businesses and help them to mark a significant anniversary in 2023, 150 years since Baring Brothers first employed women clerks.

The project will be supervised by Catherine Schenk, Professor of Economic & Social History, Dr. Rowena Olegario, Co-Director of the Global History of Capitalism project within the Faculty of History, University of Oxford; and Clara Harrow, Head Archivist, Baring Archive Ltd.