Edith Pratt OBE, a champion for wartime women

A private woman with an incredible story, Edith Pratt was a pioneering figure who dedicated her career to supporting women’s rights.

Born in Exmouth, Edith’s family owned their home at Prattshayes and land around Orcombe. She left home to read Medieval and Foreign Languages at the University of Cambridge, at a time when few women attended universities. 

Determined from the start

Initially considering work as a teacher, Edith’s attention was turned to the growing number of factories springing up across the country. Before the First World War, 3.5 million women were in full-time employment, with 2 million women in industrial jobs. Women were expected to work with very low pay in poor conditions, and had little say in the matter.

There was a growing need for employing women in factories due to the outbreak of war, and with an increase in demand many new factories opened. It wasn’t long before Edith Pratt began to work as a Welfare Officer, a role that would see her improve conditions for women within the workplace and aid in changing women’s employment rights for the better.

One in 21

At the outbreak of war, Edith was one of only 21 female factory inspectors. They focussed on improving conditions, including access to facilities and increase in wages. Her work would have influenced the way factories were designed and built, and also how employers would treat their female staff.

Each factory would have five to ten thousand workers and designed with working conditions in mind, so they now included facilities such as canteens, allotments, and some even had sleeping facilities.

Climbing ranks

By 1915 Edith worked as a factory inspector for the Ministry of Munitions. Munitions work was dangerous with workers handling metals, chemicals and explosives.

In March 1917, the Women’s Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) was established to support soldiers on the front line, the first to welcome women. Edith Pratt became Deputy Chief Controller (Overseas) while serving in France.

Exmouth-born Edith Pratt played a significant role in improving workplace rights for women.
A portrait of Miss Edith Helen Pratt, OBE.
Exmouth-born Edith Pratt played a significant role in improving workplace rights for women.

A Royal nod

Her time with the WAAC was enough to earn her a place on the very first OBE list, received from King George V.

But she didn’t stop there. She continued her career by joining the Women’s Royal Air Force (WRAF). Here she reached the height of her career as deputy commander for the WRAF, where she was in charge of approximately 32000 workers.

She died while living in London, and was buried in Exmouth on her request.

The BBC's collection of World War I stories and programmes includes this short clip about Edith Pratt's life and acomplishments: Prattshayes, Exmouth, Devon: Fighting for Women at War

Camping with the Pratts

The Pratts of Prattshayes had owned a large amount of land in and around Exmouth, including fields and land at Orcombe. From the 1920s, the family had hosted camping for children like the Bristol Children and Bristol Boys Brigade at Prattshayes. 

When Edith Pratt left Prattshayes to the National Trust in 1960, she wished for the site to continue being used for camping. On land near Orcombe Point, the Exmouth Camp continues to be in use for school groups, while families and members of the public can stay or camp at Exmouth Country Lodge & Prattshayes Campsite.

To visit Prattshayes go to www.nationaltrust.org.uk/exmouth/features/prattshayes or for campsite bookings www.prattshayes.co.uk