Jean Winder made history by becoming the first woman to become a permanent Hansard reporter. She joined Hansard towards the end of the second world war in January 1944. Wartime labour shortages had forced a change in recruitment practice. Hansard editor Percy Cole said,
The only reason why I thought of appointing a woman was that I was unable to find a man.
Winder loved her work—Churchill, she said, was “a shorthand writer’s dream”—and excelled at it. “Commendations on her work...from Members...exceeded those obtained for the work of any other member of staff,” said Cole. However, she was paid less than her male counterparts, so she fought for justice.
Equal pay was a hot topic during the second world war, with women undertaking work vital to the war effort. In 1944, MP Thelma Cazalet-Keir tabled an amendment to the Education Bill in support of equal pay for teachers, which initially passed with a majority of just one vote—the wartime coalition’s only defeat.
Winder’s pay claim was supported by Cole and the Speaker of the House, but it was vehemently opposed by the Treasury—“very hard nuts to crack,” said Cole. Winder took matters into her own hands and wrote a letter to Chancellor Hugh Gaitskell on 29 January 1951 asking whether equal pay for men and women in the civil service applied to the Official Report. The response she received dodged the question: “Practically every Department has grades where women...receive the same rates of pay as men. This is...quite different from the statement that in every Government Department, where women perform the same work as men, they receive the same salary.”
Treasury Ministers and their officials were no match for Irene Ward MP, who took up Winder’s case and pursued it with unflagging energy. On 2 August 1951, she told the House that although it “was run on the basis of equal pay...there is one woman on the Hansard staff...Mrs Winder, who has not got equal pay”. She was equally forthright in private. “I shall hand in a motion to-morrow...mentioning Mrs Winder,” she told the Speaker on 28 February 1953. “...I shall follow up my motion by a letter to The Times or the Spectator and put the Treasury on the spot.”
The Treasury eventually agreed that Winder could be paid “as if she were a male reporter” in January 1954. She crowned her victory in May 1954 by becoming the first woman to make a speech at a Press Gallery dinner. Chancellor Rab Butler, who had said in his Budget speech in April 1954 that “equal pay for equal work” was “very much in our minds” was present as a special guest. Usually, it is Hansard reporters who bear witness to what MPs say, but on this occasion it was the other way round, and Butler heard the speech of a woman who had battled for 10 years to make those words a reality.
Parliamentary passholders can see a display on Jean Winder and her fight for equal pay in the House of Commons Library from 12 November to 14 December 2018. If you’re not a parliamentary passholder, why not visit the Voice and Vote exhibition, which is free and open to the public Monday to Saturday until 6 October.
For subscribers to the Dictionary of National Biography, there is now an entry on Jean Winder, which was written by senior parliamentary archivist Mari Takayanagi.