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Women in the Workplace

Finding details on the status of women in the workplace can be difficult, especially in the early period of New South Wales' history. What follows is a mix of general details of the ongoing struggle for equal pay and better working conditions and also a list of specific record series that highlight working women.

Industrial relations | Employment records | School and training records

Central Railway Station, Sydney - interior of milk bar showing staff. View larger image in Photo Investigator Central Railway Station, Sydney - interior of milk bar showing staff. View larger image in Photo Investigator

The following agencies relating to women are listed in Archives Investigator under Advanced Search: Agency No. These may be useful starting points for further research:

A Simple Search in Archives Investigator using the keyword "women" also brings up nearly 20 pages of results.

More specific searches about women in the workforce can be undertaken using the following phrases as an Advanced Search: Record Item - Item Title:

  • "Affirmative action"
  • "Equal employment/opportunity"
  • "Equal pay"
  • "Women's group"
  • "Women's trade union"
  • "Technical jobs"
  • "New Careers"
  • "Anti-discrimination"

Industrial relations

The following agencies relating to industrial relations listed in Archives Investigator: Advanced Search: Agency No. may be useful starting points for further research:

Women's Directorate, Industrial Relations - Committee to Inquire into the Status of Women in Employment in Commerce and Industry

The Committee to Inquire into the Status of Women in Employment in Commerce and Industry was established by the Minister for Industrial Relations and Employment, the Honourable P.D. Hills, in November 1985. It was a tripartite body with three representatives each from trade unions, employer organizations and government, with an independent chairperson. The functions of the Committee were to inquire into the status of women in New South Wales in employment in commerce and industry.
The following record series relating to the Women's Directorate can be found in Archives Investigator: Advanced search: Record series number - 5560, 5561, 5562, 5563, 5567 and 5568.

Industrial Cases/hearings

The Court of Arbitration was formed in accordance with the Industrial Arbitration Act, 1901. (Act No.59,1901). The purpose of the Court was to hear and determine industrial disputes. Some of the most important early cases involving women in the workplace will be found in the series listed below.

NRS 5339, Industrial arbitration: Extracts and transcripts, 1902-20 [7/1857]

NRS 5340, Transcripts of proceedings of the Court of Arbitration, 1902-08 [2/59-117, 2/5694-721]

NRS 5341, Transcripts of proceedings of the Industrial Court, 1908-12 [2/5722, 2/118-23, 2/125-70, 2/215-45]

NRS 5342, Transcripts of proceedings of the Court of Industrial Arbitration, 1912-26 [2/171-214, 2/246-388]

NRS 5343, Transcripts of proceedings of the Industrial Commission, 1926-81, 1926-39 [2/389-543] and [7/10956-11041], 1940-59 [11/1518-750, 7/1876-71, 7/1873-74], 1960-81 [6/10858-11169].

Judges notebooks

Archives Investigator lists the notebooks of Judges and transcripts of proceedings before the Industrial Commission (Agency No. 474) and the Workers' Compensation Commission [I] (Agency No. 415).

Department of Education and Communities

Short Guide 6 - Department of Education subject files, 1875-1948 includes some references such as: Married Women Teachers' (Dismissal) Act, 1937-48, [20/13375 (pt)].

Parliamentary Counsel's records

NRS 10886, Bill files, 1973-77 [9/3014-24, 9/5064-101]
may contain details about relevant legislation to women in the workforce. Much of this material is closed to public access and it will be necessary to obtain permission to view the records from the Parliamentary Counsel's Office.

Fire records

NRS 475, NSW Fire Brigades subject files includes Womens Fire Auxiliary (Item 598), dating from 1940-46

Special bundles

A comprehensive search of the Special Bundles, listed electronically in the reading room, may also provide further areas of research. Examples of the types of records that can be found include:

NRS 10923, Police: Women Police, 1957 [10/2195 pt]

NRS 12061, Premier's Department: Employment Council report - Equal pay for equal work for both sexes, 1938 [9/2495 pt]

NRS 12294, Special Bundles
* Public Service Board includes Married women teachers' declarations [8/1187-88], Papers re Police policy on pay, 1933-35 [8/1182A.2]
* General files re married women, 1933-36, [8/1189] and Public Service Board conference in respect of teachers' claims lodged before the Conciliation Committees 1927 (included is a bundle of previous judgments and awards Public Service Board Regulations 1922 re teachers and the case for women teachers), 1922, 1927 [8/1185B.3, 8/1185C.1]

NRS 14194, Treasury: Women in Industry, 1931-33 [7/2268.3]

Employment records

If you are searching for the personnel or employment records for a specific woman who worked in a New South Wales' government department then try searching Archives Investigator under the department name. These records may be Closed to Public Access.


Short Guide 10 - Professions and Occupations can be searched by occupation for specific record item details for various occupations. Women may be included alongside their male colleagues as in professions such as Medical Practitioners or School Teachers. Traditional female dominated industries such as Nursing are included.

Public Sector

Information about women employed in the public sector is available in the Blue Books (Returns of the Colony) as well as the Public Service Lists, records of the Public Service Board (History Cards), the Department of Education (Teachers Rolls) and the State Rail Authority (Personal History Cards). Additional information on the employment of women in the public service will be found in the records of the Public Service Board (Agency No. 573) and other agencies that created and maintained separate employment records.

School and training records

A number of records relating to school education can be found in the Schools index, including records for schools such as Crown St Superior and Hunter Girls High. Other agencies involved in training girls and women include:

  • Agency No. 398 Female Orphan School (see also NRS 15051 Photographic collection - Female Orphan School, 1824)
  • Agency No. 460 Newcastle Public Industrial School for Girls (1867-1871) / Biloela Public Industrial School for Girls (1871-1887) / Parramatta Industrial School for Females (1887-1912) / Girl's Training Home, Parramatta (1912-1975) / Kamballa (1975-1983)
  • Agency No. 461 Newcastle Reformatory School for Females (1869-1871) / Biloela Reformatory School For Females (1871-1880) / Shaftesbury Reformatory (1880-1904)

NRS 15051, Photographic collection - Female School of Industry

NRS 1095, Parramatta - Female Factory Hospital

NRS 12228, Female Factory, females discharged

NRS 12229, Female Factory, medical case book