Olive Edis (1876-1955) was among the first women to build a career as freelance professional photographer in Britain.

She entered professional photography in 1903 and was well educated by the standards of the day but was essentially self-taught as a photographer.

In 1918, Edis was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum’s Women’s Work Committee to photograph British women serving in France.

Edis captured a variety of roles and the conditions in which women worked - from nursing on hospital ships, administrative work in stores offices, manual work in engine repair shops and everything in between.

The conditions were often difficult and you can see how she used natural light from nearby windows to light many of her subjects.

Edis took great pride in her work for IWM and insisted on wearing a war museum badge while on assignment.

When later recalling her experiences, she wrote: “One soon forgets the tiredness and the discomfort  but not the wonderful things one has seen.”

Explore a selection of her images and discover more on Collections Online

Photographs

A YMCA canteen at Cambrai

Miss Inskip and Miss Dale in the YMCA Canteen, Cambrai.
© IWM (Q 8091)

The two women in the photograph are named on the original caption as Miss Inskip and Miss Dale.

Photographs

Rabbit-keeping

Miss Hall rabbit-keeping at the farm at Grange-le-Comte.
© IWM (Q 8080)

Miss Hall photographed with a rabbit at a farm at Grange-le-Comte.

Maintaining this farm was part of the post war reconstruction work of the Friends' War Victims Relief Committee (FWVRC). The farm later became their headquarters.

Photographs

Engine Repair

Members of Queen Mary's Army Auxiliray Corps (QMAAC) machine room that formed part of the RAF engine repair shops at Pont de l'Arche.
© IWM (Q 8116)

This photograph shows women of the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) at work in RAF engine repair shops at Pont de l'Arche.

Olive Edis’s photographs of women at work are more serious and intimate than earlier commissions recording women workers.

Photographs

Registrars at work

Archbishops Palace. Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) (Registrars Office) 3rd Echelon. Assistant Unit Administrator Rouen.
© IWM (Q 8122)

Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) working in the Registrar’s office at the Archbishops Palace in Rouen.

Over 57,000 women served with QMAAC, at home and abroad, before it was disbanded on 27 September 1921.

Photographs

Miss Fletcher, VAD

Miss Fletcher, Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), in her office at the Hotel Christol, Boulogne.
© IWM (Q 7981)

Miss Fletcher, an administrator with the Voluntary Aid Detachments (VAD), in her office at the Hotel Christol, Boulogne.

Images such as this one, which capture something of the character of the sitter, illustrate Olive Edis’s skill as a portrait photographer.

Photographs

At the telephone exchange

Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) working the telephone exchange at No. 4 Rest Camp, Henriville.
© IWM (Q 7975)

Women from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) operating the telephone exchange at Henriville.

Olive Edis was keen to show the range of skills shown by women in work other than the more familiar nursing or medical services.

Photographs

Maintaining war graves

Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) gardeners tending the graves of the war dead at Etaples. The wooden crosses would later be replaced by white headstones.
© IWM (Q 8027)

Gardeners from the Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) tending the graves of the war dead at Etaples.

The wooden crosses would later be replaced by white headstones.

Photographs

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry drivers

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) drivers with their snow-covered motor ambulances at Commercy.
© IWM (Q 8074)

First Aid Nursing Yeomanry (FANY) drivers with their snow-covered vehicles at Commercy.

Olive Edis’s month long tour of France began in March and, as shown by this image, the weather remained cold and snowy.

Photographs

The Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen, Le Havre

The well stocked shelves of the Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen in Le Havre with a member of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) behind the counter and another colleague and a young lieutenant in front.
© IWM (Q 8106)

The well-stocked shelves of the Officers Expeditionary Force Canteen in Le Havre with a member of the Queen Mary's Army Auxiliary Corps (QMAAC) behind the counter.

Photographs

A French Red Cross Canteen, Compiegne

Three French soldiers at the bar of a French Red Cross Canteen with British staff at Compiegne.
© IWM (Q 8086)

A French Red Cross Canteen at Compiegne staffed by British women.

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