Difficulties for a woman managing men

The chief difficulty which Frankie faced was working with the men on the farm. Even today there is endless discussion about the problems women bosses face managing men. (See Oprah)  Frankie was trying to manage in an occupation which had been traditionally male-dominated. She was learning fast about farming but did not know enough to be able to manage 400 acres of difficult land, so she had to have a bailiff. A bailiff usually lives in the farmhouse itself and he makes all the decisions about the farm. Frankie  was staying with the children in a guest house about 3 miles away.

Managing men working on Frances Donaldson's wartime farm
Some of the farm men. Mr Highman driving tractor, Carling standing, pointing



The bailiff at this time was a man called Jones. Frankie was female, aged 32, small and pretty. Jones rode over her roughshod.  He also cheated her and stole 23 sheep. Here is the story:
Frances Donaldson in World War Two 3/7/40   Jones is a complete tough and I don’t pretend to be a manager of toughs. I meant to buy the milking herd at once and start milking in about 6 weeks. But I want to have full control of it when it comes and I’m sure I shan’t get it with Jones around. As against this, everyone points out that I am taking a great chance if I upset him before the harvest is in.

7/7/40   I am having a harassing and really rather frightening time. I found out that Jones has been sending our sheep unfit to the market all summer, and we have lost about £100 this way. There are problems with the beef cattle and it becomes clear that 50% of the trouble is the result of mismanagement of a deliberate or negligent kind. I checked the books and found there were 23 sheep unaccounted for. I brought the matter up with him. He was immediately pretty bloody rude. I asked him if any had died. He said he didn’t know … some had but he didn’t know how many. When pushed a little further he shouted at me and asked why he should know any more than me? I made the obvious retort that I paid him to know and left the matter at that.

I went to see Mr Stewart to see if there was any possibility of getting a man to do the threshing if I told Jones to stop working for me. He said none at all and that I must hold off all rows for 10 days or so till the threshing is done. After that I must have a complete inventory of stock and threaten prosecution if any are missing etc etc.

Yesterday Carling came over and pointed out that our hay stacks were not thatched and we should lose the whole of the tops of the stacks if it rained. Of course it poured last night.

I was frightened that if I crossed Jones he would be rude enough to force me to get rid of him at an inconvenient time and I am frightened about the threshing. I estimate we may have lost something like £400 by robbery. I ought to have booted him out in May or June and chanced.

10/7/40   All the fun here is spoilt by this Jones business. The only real reason for being here is the farm and I am fundamentally incapable of taking anything less than a full part in it. I find I have no sustaining interest unless I can really get on with the job.

11/7/40    I got rather a sweet letter from you which cheered me up a good deal. On the strength of being cheered up I decided that I was perhaps lying down a bit too much over the Jones situation & it would really be better to try a bit harder to make him do what I want. There is only one way to do this & that is to live in Wilmcote, closer to the farm. I am convinced that I shall do no good with the farm unless I do. Either with Jones or anyone else.

29/7/40   We cut the oats today. I wish you were here. It is really such fun. It was a good crop & I cut my arms to ribbons sticking it up into stooks. It is awful because there is always a thistle or something in every bundle as well as the oats.

It is more satisfactory & gives you a greater pride in possession than anything else in the world. You would really love it.

P.S. Jones has wrecked the silage. He does this with everything he does not want to do.

On a happier note she wrote:
‘Darling Major D.,   Things are a teensy bit better temporarily. Jones having been damned rude and tiresome for two days has I think thought better of it for the moment and is being a good deal less truculent. Long may it last – at any rate long enough to get through the next week or two until the time arrives for me to disturb his equilibrium again.

I long to hear more from you and all about being a Major and I long to see you.

Her troubles managing men were not over, but she found a much nicer bailiff, easier to get on with, although he still tried to keep her out of nearly everything to do with the farm, and would not help her acquire the more difficult skills. She managed without him in the end, but not for another  year.

2 Responses to 5 Managing Men 1940

  1. I needed to be clear as to what a bailiff did but felt a bit talked down to, if you see what I mean, by the style used in your explanation. I felt the same way with your comment on the first page about why your mother kept going to the agricultural classes…
    The bailiff was the overseer, responsible for….

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A Woman's War