"Another industry which offers increasing openings for women is indexing… It does not require any extraordinary talent. Indeed one lady who is an expert on the subject says: “Cleverness is not required in an indexer, brilliancy is dangerous, the desirable quality is clearness.”
The other day, while I was at the Portsmouth Record Office rooting through some newspaper archives, I came across this snippet from the Bath Chronicle & Weekly Gazette for December 27, 1906, which is describing career opportunities for women:
I’ve researched the identity of this ‘expert lady’, and it turns out it is Mary Petherbridge (1870–1940), who wrote a little manual called The technique of indexing in 1904.
She trained as a librarian in America then returned to England and opened The Secretarial Bureau in the Strand where she offered professional instruction in secretarial work and indexing. It seems she was an indexer in some official capacity to H.M. Government Publications. Her book is charming and very much of its time. “Many books do not require indexing,” she says, “and are unnecessarily spoilt by having one… it is like the proverbial dusting of the wings of the butterfly – the damage is irremediable."
David A. Green is a freelance indexer living in Petersfield, Hampshire.
The Indexed Word
Random thoughts about books, indexes, and book indexing.