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Last updated:16 April 2015

Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries

In 1999 the Library was fortunate to acquire a very rich collection of material from the trade union, APEX, formerly known as the Clerical and Administrative Workers Union.

Front cover of The Woman Clerk for Spring 1923That name itself was chosen to mark the amalgamation in 1941 of two unions, the National Union of Clerks and Administrative Workers (founded in 1890 as the National Union of Clerks), and the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries (formed in 1903 as the Association of Shorthand Writers and Typists).

Most of the material held at WCML came from the GMB union after APEX merged with it, but some extra material derives from the estate of Professor Arthur Marsh, of Oxford University, who with Victoria Ryan wrote the only modern history of the union: The clerks: a history of APEX, 1890-1989, Malthouse, 1997.


The Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries (AWCS) was initially formed, in 1903, as the Association of Shorthand Writers and Typists (ASWT). Membership of the ASWT was not confined to women, but they always took the leading role, and the change of name to AWCS in 1912 reflected the reality on the ground. The needs of government administration during World War I formed the major part of the growth of the Association - from under 900 in 1916, membership rose to between 7,500 and 8,500 four years later.  As Marsh and Ryan said, "the emancipation offered to women by war conditions released political enthusiasm as well as suffragette activities which frightened many but encouraged others to promote the union cause".

By 1916 the Association had registered as a trade union; at the Congress of 1919 it was formally accepted into membership of the TUC.  The AWCS called themselves 'Awks'.  They adopted as their emblem and badge a depiction of what appears to be a Great Auk.  Despite this perhaps unfortunate choice of symbol, the union, especially in the London area where its membership was mainly concentrated, proved to be a lively, controversial and sometimes provocative outfit.  One of its leading members, Anne Godwin, was in 1961 to become only the third woman President of the TUC.


In essence there are two archives held at the Library - the trade union material itself, and the material (including tapes and transcripts of interviews) generated by Marsh and Ryan in the course of researching their work. Amongst this latter material is a series of transcripts of interviews with Anne Godwin, which shed light on questions such as the relationship between the ACWS and the NUC.


Other resources about the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries in the Library collection

Some aspects of the history of the Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries, Ruskin College Diploma thesis by Vanessa Anders 1991 [ref PP/THESES/25, Shelfmark: THESES Box 2].

The Association of Women Clerks and Secretaries 1903-1940 - the entry of middle class women into clerical labour, Salford University BA thesis by Vivian Belkacem 1993 [ref PP/THESES/167, shelfmark THESES Box 12].