June WTC Photo of the Month
This month we look at a photograph published in the Scottish paper the Daily Record in in 1942 under the headline ‘These Girls do a He-Man’s Job’. The photograph shows women sitting around the campfire, as they look up, smiling, to their camp supervisor, as they enjoy food and drink together after a busy day out in the forest.
Accompanying the photograph, the reporter noted how every ‘division has a welfare officer and each camp has a supervisor who is responsible for the girls’ welfare and conduct’. The photograph suggests an affectionate respect, as well as a certain amount of deference from Scottish Lumber Jills to the authority figure who oversaw their work.
Presenting Lumber Jills with their Welfare Officer likely reassured readers as these young women, undertaking traditionally male jobs, were supervised and crucially not compromising their moral standards. The reporter gave women a somewhat angelic quality, describing them as having ‘hearts of oak’, a forestry pun which similarly drew on a key symbol of British identity to praise women’s wartime efforts.
Photographs such as this presented the forest as a nostalgic and romantic environment, drawing on iconography often associated with the Girl Guides movement, which as historian Kristine Alexander, writes promoting a ‘pragmatic, vigorous and even masculine vision of femininity’. Yet the photographs also showed the transgressive nature of women eating and drinking in the wild – adapting their domesticity to the physical environment in which they were living and working.
The campfire photographs were ambiguous in the values and messages they communicated about women working in the forests. To some extent they tempered the transgressive nature of their work felling trees by showing women’s domesticity in the outdoor environment, as well as their respect for authority. Yet, the photographs also showed how women, many for the first time, were adapting to the nomadic nature of forestry work, which pushed at the boundaries of what was deemed appropriate work for 1940s women.