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She Was Aye Workin':
Memories of Tenement Women in Edinburgh and Glasgow

Helen Clark & Elizabeth Carnegie
Foreword by Elaine C Smith

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'She was always washin', always cleanin', she was aye workin', she never got anywhere, that was her life. Monday was her washin' day, in the middle of the floor with her tub and a bath in front of the fire. Then ironing and knitting and at night-time maybe, when she had the time, she'd tell us the stories.' (Flora Macdonald)

The hidden lives of women who raised families and made ends meet in Scotland's early 20th-century urban tenements. She Was Aye Workin' is an eloquent tribute to the management skills, stamina and moral strength of women who held homes together against all the odds of poverty and poor living conditions.

The book covers life from girlhood through marriage and childbirth to old age. It includes material previously seen as taboo on subjects like sexual awareness and domestic abuse, but looks also at standards which regulated behaviour, and the mutual support systems of women. There is fascinating detail on such things as the ingenuity required to feed a family on little money, and on central institutions like the Co-op and the pawnshop. Happy memories of days at Portobello or 'doon the watter' balance the grimmer side of life.

The pooling of material from Edinburgh and Glasgow highlights interesting similarities and differences in the experience of tenement life in Scotland's two great rival cities. With all the vividness of oral history She Was Aye Workin' continues the compelling exploration of tenement home life begun in the best-selling Up Oor Close.

Published in association with the People's Story, City of Edinburgh Council, and the People's Palace, Glasgow City Council

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The authors, both social historians, have done a valuable job collating so many diverse voices ... This is an eloquent tribute to the hidden lives of so many women. ... An awe-inspiring read.

The Scots Magazine

Its role as a non-academic history book is fundamental in representing a history of a recent past with which people, and particularly women, can easily identify with as Elaine C. Smith states in her foreword.

History Scotland

In the days before communities were torn apart by rampant individualism, most city dwellers had no choice but to snuggle up tightly and battle through their narrow range of choices. This collection of folk memories pays tribute to the women who held the threadbare fabric of life together in the tenements of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the first half of the twentieth century.


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Foreword by Elaine C. Smith


1. Growing Up
Bed sharing . Keeping clean . Helping at home . 'Becoming a
woman' . The facts of life

2. Out of the House
Games and clubs . Further afield . Schooling . Starting to earn

3. Are Ye Dancin'?
Going out . Dancing . Courtship . Keeping safe

4. Getting Married and Setting Up Home
Getting engaged . The wedding . Celebrations . Honeymoon .
Starting married life

5. Having Babies
Birth control . Pregnancy . Giving birth . New mothers . Adoption

6. Feeding the Family
Family diet . Routines and treats . Buying and storing food .

7. Yer Ne'er Done
Cleaning . Shared stairs and toilets . Wash day . The
wash house and the steamie

8. For Better, for Worse
'A good man' . Neighbours . Time off and outings . Women's groups . Drinking . Domestic violence

9. For Richer, for Poorer
Making ends meet . Working women . The store . The buroo and
the parish . The pawn . Making do

10. In Sickness and in Health
Simple help . Home remedies . Doctors and dispensaries .
Infectious diseases

11. Till Death Us Do Part
Old age . Preparedness for death . Laying out . The funeral .

Appendix on Prices and Wages


Selected Reading


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Helen Clark has for the last 18 years been Keeper of Social History for Edinburgh City Museums. During this time she has worked on setting up two new museums - The People's Story and Newhaven Heritage Museum - both of which use oral history extensively as a method of interpreting the past and giving members of the local communities a voice.

Elizabeth Carnegie is a graduate of Edinburgh University and Leicester University's Museums Studies programme. From 1991-8 she was a curator of social history at Glasgow Museums, where she managed the People's Palace and coordinated oral history projects. She is currently a lecturer in cultural tourism at Napier University, Edinburgh.

ISBN 1 873487 05 3 paperback £9.99 inc. p&p
2003; 192 pp., 216 x 138 mm., 56 b&w ill., bibliog., index