Courtship, engagement and marriage were factors in the lives of all young women of whatever means that changed life for ever, but in different ways for different women. Marriage could be an escape, or equally an end to personal freedom and choice.
For women in domestic service, or for those working in shops or factories, a husband would provide not only an income, but an escape from boredom and drudgery. Women gained new status as wives and mothers. For most working women, there was no other way of escape. At least doing one's own housework and minding one's own children was infinitely more attractive than doing it for somebody else.
Some married women had to continue to work to boost the family budget, but many found ways of earning a living from home doing jobs like taking in washing, or dressmaking; and going out to work from the new family home was better than living in, at the constant beck and call of an employer,with only a Sunday afternoon free each week.
This is how marriage arrived for one young girl in service:
"My husband-to-be got a job up at Loughrigg Brow on the New Year's Eve and we walked back from Windermere, and then he said, 'Will you marry me?' and I said yes, and we hadn't a bean between us! I said to them at the cafe, 'Percy's going to get measured for a new suit'... and three weeks afterwards we're going for Percy's suit and we got married. And then I went home and told Mother and she told me off because at home they used to like to make big "do's". But I knew they couldn't afford it so we didn't bother."
Marriage was soon followed by a new job:
"I was housemaid/waitress, it was a posh job. Yes, lovely little frilly cap and by ten o'clock I had nothing to do, just wait on the door, go to the door and answer it. The old ladies used to have bridge - and you would take their boots off and they used to have hte old-fashioned boots with the button hook, and then you'd get a little tip. I was living in still, I was quite happy although I was married."
The arrival of the first baby co-incided with the couple's first home together; and before long, they had the keys to their first council home.
For them, marriage brought a new freedom; but for young women of independent means who controlled their own destinies, marriage meant giving up personal ambition, which most independent women sacrificed to help their husbands pursue a chosen career. For one young lady, this meant a new life thousands of miles from home as the wife of a medical missionary:
"The day after we arrived in India, in the village, we were followed by a long procession of little boys to see this queer specimen, because I had had my hair cut off and they all thought I had some terrible illness!
"...The first thing we did when we arrived, we were told to arrive in the evening because they wanted to do a firework display in honour of our marriage, and we were met by an immense crowd of people for about two or three miles from the hospital, we could hardly get along, we were in a car; because my husband had been involved in a cholera epidemic and he'd been in a lot of these houses giving treatment to people just before coming back to England to get married, so they knew him. Of course they didn't know me, but they came to see what he married! And we had a long verandah along the house and the whole of the length of the verandah had little lights all the way along, it looked very pretty; and then they had the fireworks just outside on the tennis court."
Missionary work in India in the 1920s was a far cry from home in the Lake District; and not even the couple's new bungalow provided a haven from the strange new world they had chosen; instead, it became a temporary hospital for any European needing treatment for whom Indian hospitals were considered unsuitable. But the young bride gladly gave up her own ambitions to become a missionary in her own right to support her husband in his work:
"It fulfilled my own wish, very much; I was glad to go in that capacity, as a missionary's wife, not in any official status."
In the 1980s, we would find it impossible now to differentiate between young ladies and young working women. The headstrong young lady of private means able to devote her life to voluntary work is an extinct species; and there are very few women who actually have the choice whether to work or not; most of us need to. At least housework is easier to do than it used to be:
"It was a very much more leisured life, leisured in a sense, yet everybody was busy.This was because it took longer to do most jobs, almost everything when you think. Even the ironing was done with a flat iron and had to be heated on the stove, and you had to light a fire before you could boil a kettle and all these sort of things. Everything took longer. And of course people made their own clothes, which took quite a long time...."
With household tasks taking so long to perform, its even more astonishing that our grandmothers had so much time to lead such exciting, courageous and hard-working lives!