Mothers’ Day Off by Grace Robertson, 1954

In 1954, when Grace Robertson first proposed to document a group of Battersea “charladies” for a photoessay, her magazine Picture Post was reluctant. Despite the fact that it loved to celebrate working-class culture and the welfare state, Picture Post thought Robertson’s ideas were a bridge too far for the magazine. It did not like ‘women’s subjects’ and the following year, the magazine would also kill Robertson’s explicit feature on a hospital birth, titled The Pain of Childbirth, “on the grounds it might upset female readers”.

With Battersea women, Robertson nonetheless pressed ahead, shooting it without a commission. Robertson spent three days in the women’s company, at their local pub, drinking beer and eating cockles with them in order to gain their trust. She remembered how the story came together:

After a couple of nights I noticed two things. One that the women were getting ready for a day trip that weekend, and that around me younger people, ex-soldiers, were talking about new high-rise flats, new estates outside London. I knew at that moment I was capturing a bit of history, and that it was all going to be broken up, the whole area. So I set off on the Saturday with the women in the coach. Their energy was awesome. These women were survivors. These were women in their fifties, sixties and seventies, and they had been through two wars and that depression in the middle. They were incredibly exuberant.

… They were working-class women who had contributed money for the trip, and they were determined to enjoy themselves. I got the sense they felt they had earned their day out; they were middle-aged, so they had gone through two world wars and the Depression. The other thing that was noticeable about them was their corsets: my generation wore rubber corsets, but theirs were whalebone.

Robertson’s photos showed an intimate insight into the women’s lives and their tight-knit community. As the photos were not commissioned by the magazine, they appeared without an accompanying article. But the series was so well-received that she was later commissioned by LIFE to reshoot a version featuring women from another south London pub in Clapham.

Robertson began her career submitting work under a male pseudonym Dick Muir (using her mother’s birth name), not wishing to draw attention to her last name (her father also worked for Picture Post) nor to her gender. After a few rejections, she was first published in Picture Post in 1951, under her own name. It was a personal story on her sister, entitled A Schoolgirl Does Her Homework. She regularly contributed to Picture Post until its closure in 1957. In 1955 she had married a fellow photographer, Thurston Hopkins. After the birth of her first child, she left photography, retraining as a primary school teacher.

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14 thoughts on “Mothers’ Day Off by Grace Robertson, 1954

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