From typists to tube drivers, London's transport network has long had pioneering women. Here's a brief history of them.
'Miss Armstrong's' Christian name appears to have been lost to the winds of time, but not her history-making role. Armstrong was the first female typist at the District Railway’s Ealing Common Depot — and this rather charming photo was taken at her desk there, in 1905. Behind her, you can see an early version of the 'tube' map — the District Map Of Greater London And Environs, which was published in 1902 by Sampson, Low, Marston & Company.
You've likely seen this image of Hannah Dadds on one of TfL's station platform displays. Joining London Underground in 1969, Dadds worked her way up from ticket inspector to train guard, to the first female train driver on the London Underground — which she accomplished in 1978.
In 2019, Dadds received a plaque at Upton Park station, where she worked. At the unveiling, Dadds's niece, Vivian Parsons, said of her: "She made the effort to fit into what was a man's world rather than make demands — she wanted to show she did not need any allowances made for her because she was a woman. She made sure she was accepted as a driver – not a token female driver and there was no special treatment."
On Dadds's death in 2011, Howard Collins, chief executive of London Underground, said of the pioneer, that she "... changed the working life of women on the tube and the way in which many people viewed tube drivers."
"Like it or lump it, Jill is pretty certain to be the first of many women [bus] drivers," says the voiceover on a video that captures Jill Viner's inaugural day behind the wheel. Before Hannah Dadds became the first female tube driver, Viner had already become the first female London Transport bus driver — back in 1974, and aged just 22. Viner was based at Norbiton bus garage, working there for almost 20 years. According to the video we quoted at the start, she'd wanted to drive buses since she was eight:
Another first: Susan Atyeo — pictured here at work in Covent Garden tube station on 28 Sep 1979 — was the first woman signal operator on the Underground.
For International Women's Day in 2020, TfL revealed a number of special roundels across the network, including one at Covent Garden, which was a subtle nod to Atyeo.
Agatha Claudette Hart
Agatha Claudette Hart worked as a bus conductor for London Transport at Stockwell bus garage, where this photo was taken. She was one of the hundreds of young West Indian women recruited during the 1950s and 60s. In 1968, London Transport estimated it had 9,000 black staff (in a workforce of 73,000). Many women, though, were assigned to catering. Canteen assistant Sybil Campbell remembered: "Most staff in the canteen were from Jamaica and Barbados and people from the different islands used to mix. It was hard work. They had beauty contests, and things like that used to help. The first canteen queen was from our canteen."
Paula Maynard and Tess Donohoe
London Transport bus driver Tess Donohoe is shown here leaning out of her DM-type bus, speaking to inspector Paula Maynard. The photo was taken in 1975, at Holloway bus garage. Despite pioneers like Donohoe, Viner and Dadds, women drivers are still a minority on the London transport network — with companies like Go-Ahead announcing recruitments of 1,000 extra women bus drivers by 2025.
Images © TfL from London Transport Museum's collection
In 2018, London Transport Museum launched its Where are all the Women? collecting project to shine a spotlight on the lives of women who carried out important and skilled activities in a male-dominated workforce from 1800 to the present day. Do you have female family members, ancestors or employees who worked on the buses, London Underground, trains, passenger boats or the Port of London authority? To contribute your stories, please get in touch by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org