Rent-collecting, especially in poor neighbourhoods, is work in which women have achieved remarkable success. There are several women engaged as rent-collectors to good class properties, but it cannot be said that in this sphere a woman possesses any special advantages over a man, and such appointments are, therefore, not very easy to obtain unless she is-personally known to the manager or owner of the property.
There is, however, another side to the profession. It appeals not only to the woman who is anxious to earn her own living - and there are opportunities in it of making a fair income - but to those who wish to employ their talents for brightening the lives of the poor. It is a philanthropic work, as truly so as any undertaken under the auspices of religious and charitable bodies, and it offers even more opportunities of alleviating the wretchedness around us than falls to the lot of most charitable workers.
The pioneer of the movement was Miss Octavia Hill, who, over forty years ago, showed how much a woman could do to reform some of the vilest dens in our large towns. The Good Influence of Women
Streets of houses where the inhabitants lived more like wild beasts than human beings were turned, through the efforts of herself and her followers, into decent and respectable dwellings.
Many property owners, who were not particularly interested in the philanthropic aspect of the work, were quick to see the commercial advantages of employing a woman as estate manager. It greatly improved their property and turned risky investments into sound paying ones. Where a man might just get in the rents, where-ever it was possible to extort them, the woman, inspired by the spirit of Miss Hill and her helpers, devoted herself to bettering the condition of the tenants by making them live decently, and thus raising the whole tone of the tenements or houses in her charge.
Women are born housekeepers, and herein lies one great secret of their success in this work.
The Power of Sympathy and Tact
The woman estate manager first gets hold of the wife, instructing her in elementary, but often to her very novel, ideas of cleanliness, and of how to make her home comfortable. She can teach her, too, how best to eke out her scanty means and get the most for her money. Having the absolute control of the property, she can do much for tenants who show any disposition to follow her advice, putting bright papers on the walls, whitewashing ceilings, etc.
Very often the fault lies with the husband, who, if a drunkard, spends most of his earnings in the public-house, and who employs his spare time in breaking up everything in his home, including the doors and windows, and unmercifully ill-treating his wife and children. . She can talk to him in a way that no man could, or would dare to do. She can appeal to his better feelings and often persuade him to abandon his evil courses. Sympathy and tact can do much, especially when there is power behind them.
It may be wondered how it is possible for a woman to enter the homes of these people, but it must be remembered that she is master of the situation. She wields all the power of the landlord. She can turn out any tenant who defies her, and this power makes her respected and feared. The ordinary district visitor has a far more hopeless task; her visits are often resented, and only tolerated from the fact that a certain amount of soup and coals are in her gift. The poor are apt to look askance at religion and religious workers. But the woman estate manager is a despot whose will cannot be disputed, and she can exercise her power for the good of her subjects in a way which is not open to any other worker for the poor.
Although the work was originally begun in London, it soon spread to other large towns, and now opportunities for the employment of women as managers and collectors are constantly increasing, as management on these lines is being adopted in many new places, especially in the large towns of the North and West of England. It is spreading, too, to the smaller towns, and even country villages, where the condition of the people is often quite as degraded as in many town slums.
The best way for a girl to obtain a practical knowledge of the profession is to obtain work under a woman estate manager as a collector. Most women now engaged would be only too glad to train capable assistants, and one can easily get into touch with them by applying to one of the societies for promoting the employment of gentlewomen.
When trained, an assistant can expect a salary of from 30 to 80 a year, and if she obtains the management of an estate, she will receive a commission of from 4 per cent. to 6 per cent, on the gross rental.