Women in the Cunard archive

The nature of the Cunard archive means that very few records relating to staff outside the positions of Captain or Engineer have survived – this is particularly the case for female employees whose roles were historically that of a casual nature and away from the public eye.

Over time we have seen an increase in enquiries that relate to the role of women, both in their capacity as Cunard employees (land and sea) but also as passengers. With this in mind we have produced the following summary of example records from the Cunard archive that reference women under three broad headings – ‘Employees’, ‘Passengers’ and ‘War Time’.

Although this summary may act as a useful starting point for researchers it is important to bear in mind that the examples given are not exhaustive and do not include records such as meeting minutes and correspondence files. Also, women’s connection with the Cunard Company can be seen in other ways through archival records that are not listed below – for instance their role in launching ships and as wives, widows and children to Cunard employees.

As we continue to catalogue new accessions and work on updating existing descriptions, new records will come to light that feature women. These will be searchable via our online catalogue and often highlighted on social media.


Sepia photograph showing women working in the laundry and mangling department. The scene includes fabric hanging from the ceiling to dry, women sat at a large mangle, and women folding large pieces of cloth.
Staff at work in the Cunard Laundry and Mangling Department. ([190-?])

As may be expected there are various photographs and printed promotional material within the Cunard archive that feature female employees. Although not as comprehensively represented as their male colleagues, women are depicted as early as the late 1800s in Cunard’s laundry department (photograph format) up until the present day (brochure format). Other specific examples of records are given as follows:

  • D42/PR3/20/20- Broadsheet [1950s]

Includes photographs of Cunard sea-going staff in three sections: `Steamship and service; Service of 35 years and over; Women to play a vital part in Cunard service at sea’.

Page from magazine/newspaper with six photographs of women employed on Cunard ships
Broadsheet with photographs of Cunard sea-going staff in three sections: `Steamship and service’; ‘Service of 35 years and over’; ‘Women to play a vital part in Cunard service at sea’ (n.d.)
  • D42/PR4/44/3/7 – “Pages from the Liverpool Echo” (13-28 Nov 1959)
Scanned copy of newspaper article.
‘Women at Sea’. Article written by George Eglin for the Liverpool Echo.

Contains a series of articles written by George Eglin, the Echo’s Staff Writer, and illustrated by Marjorie Ellis, top fashion artist. They were commissioned to sail to New York on board the Queen Mary and to return on board the Queen Elizabeth, and provided a depiction of life aboard the Queens. Includes articles on the machinery and equipment on board the Queen Mary, the cuisine on board the ships, and women employees at sea.

  • D42/PR4/46/18 – Information on the jobs women perform on Cunard vessels and the requirements of different roles (Oct 1950)

Contains: “General information regarding posts open to women in the Company’s vessels”, including details of the duties and job requirements of hairdressers, shop attendants, laundresses, assistant pursers and telephonists. On the back of these notes is a list of the numbers of female staff on board the Queen Mary within different departments. Typed transcript of an extract from Cunard News, October 1950, entitled “Women’s Careers Afloat”. List of figures pertaining to the number of females aboard the Queen Elizabeth and names of several female staff members.

  • D42/PR2/3/26 – Photographs (Apr 1953-Aug 1960; n.d.)

General Sea Staff: Female Staff

  • D42/PR5 – Cunard Magazine (1918-1927)

Also featured in the magazines are pages aimed specifically at female members of staff, at first under the title `our ladies’ corner’, and later `ladies’ pages’.

  • D42/PR12/24/12 – News from Cunard: Press releases (1966)

This section contains news releases issued by Cunard relating to various subjects including that of their first ever female director (Lady Tweedsmuir).

Black and white portrait photograph of Lady Tweedsmuir
Lady Tweedsmuir
  • D42/GM17/5 Record of pursers (Cunard White Star Ltd) (c1939-1947)

Indexed. Details include name, date of birth, date joined service, date joined superannuation fund, address, date joined ship, rank, rate of pay, and name of ship. Also included in the volume are seniority lists that include pay information. The volume also includes a section for stenographers (female staff).

  • D42/PR3/22/18 – Material relating to a charity match to be played 6 November 1966 by the Cunard ladies’ football club, in order to raise money for the Aberfan disaster fund. (1966)
  • Scanned copy of front cover of match programme.
  • Scanned copy of inside pages of match programme.
  • Scanned copy of back cover of match programme.

The Cunard ladies won the charity match 2-0, maintaining their unbeaten record, and raised over £57.00.

  • 2020.034 CNDA) – Papers of Lucy Squires
Workbook of Lucy Squire
Example pages from Lucy Squire’s workbook (2020.034/2).

Lucy Squires was employed as a Secretary for Cunard during the 1920s at their London Office at Cockspur Street.

You can find more information about her papers in a previous blog post: https://manuscriptsandmore.liverpool.ac.uk/?p=7192


Both the Public Relations series of the Cunard archive (D42/PR) and the Cunard Associated Deposits (CNDA) contain extensive advertising material that feature female passengers. Donations of cruise memorabilia collected by female passengers also compliment such records. Some specific examples are given as follows:

  • D42/PR12/27 New York Office: General press releases and memorandums (1952-n.d.)

Press releases `Special to Women’s Pages’ covering items such as on board fashion, recipes and women friendly cruising.

  • 2020.028 (CNDA) Bothnia: travel diary – May 1878-Feb 1879
Photograph showing spine of diary, with the monograph 'L.P.B' and the year '1878' in gold lettering.

Leather-bound travel diary of an [American] female passenger named Louise P. Bruce who sailed with a group from New York to Queenstown on the Bothnia in May 1878.

You can find more information about the travel diary in a previous blog post: https://manuscriptsandmore.liverpool.ac.uk/?p=7783

War Time

Perhaps surprisingly, women’s role during periods of war is reflected within the Cunard archive. Glimpses of their involvement during the First World War in particular can be seen through photographs. The Cunard staff magazine (ref: D42/PR5) is another useful resource for gaining insight into this period. Other specific examples are as follows:

  • D42/PR1/46-47 – Photograph albums: Subsidiary Industries
Women at work on aeroplane parts in the National Aeroplane Factory, Liverpool
Women at work in the National Aeroplane Factory, Liverpool [1917].

Contains photographs of Cunard subsidiary industries during the First World War (1914-1918) such as the Cunard shell factory and the National aeroplane factory. These factories were mostly staffed by women workers.

  • D42/PR3/8/3 – Notes: `The Great War. Work of the shore staffs’

Includes information on the Cunard Shell Works and the National Aeroplane Factory. These factories were largely staffed by women workers.

  • D327/1/7 – Programme (24 Feb 1917)

Programme for the ‘High Explosives’, an entertainment for wounded soldiers by the lady shell workers, at the Cunard Shell Works.

  • D327/1/9 – Letter (23 Nov 1918)

Typescript letter to Miss. M. Chadwick from the Chairman and the General Manager of Cunard (both of whom sign their names) thanking her for her efforts during the war at the Cunard Shell Factory and offering her a memento (a 4.5″ H. E. Shell).

  • D42/PR3/17/2 – Memorandum: `Sea Going Staff (Women) May 1944′

Summarising war service of Cunard’s sea-going women staff (n.d.)

You can learn more about the Cunard Archive via the dedicated webpage which includes links to the online catalogues.