Resources: Classic text revisited ... Girls Growing Up PearlJephcott, 1942

| 08 September 2004

"I think it was just about this time I began to realise I was a person in the world whom no-one took any notice of. After all, here was I a growing girl, and soon I would be a 'big girl' (my idea of nearly womanhood) and no-one was interested in me at all." These sentiments come from one of the working-class girls who appear in Pearl Jephcott's Girls Growing Up.

It is an insightful book, shedding light on young women's lives, ranging from "mother scrimping and scraping to keep the family decent" to experiences of limited schooling with time spent "doing needlework lessons for the troops". Once their elementary education was over at 14, the girls found themselves working long hours in repetitive jobs in the factory, shop or domestic service.

We hear Jephcott despairing of the quality of the girls' leisure pursuits when so many of them escape the tedium of their lives through the fantasy world of magazines, the cinema or the dancehall. Instead she would like them to experience girls' work that has "novelty, excitement, fun, (and) a chance to explore new things".

We catch glimpses of ideas that Jephcott later brought to the Albemarle Committee, when she asserts the need for service direction, theory and purposeful work in constructive settings.

But, most of all, it is the stories of the young women that captivate and serve as historical testament to those marginalised by their age, gender and class. It is also an opportunity to take stock and reflect on where we are now in our work with young women, and whether we are really making the difference that Jephcott was seeking.

Reviewed by Paula Pope, senior lecturer, youth and community work, Liverpool John Moores University.

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