Betty Nicholls

The war gave Betty Nicholls career opportunities she would never have had in peacetime, and she went on to become Westminster Bank's first female branch manager. 

Betty Nicholls was born in 1919, the daughter of Arthur and Marie Nicholls. She grew up in Portsmouth, and in 1937 got a job as a shorthand typist, working at Westminster Bank’s branch in nearby Petersfield.

By the time Betty joined the bank, women had been working in banks for more than 20 years, but their career opportunities were very limited. Except for a few years during the First World War, when severe staff shortages had demanded extreme measures, women were kept away from customer-facing roles, for fear of offending customers. This meant that there was no prospect of rising to more senior roles in branch banking, so although 15-20% of the bank’s staff were female at this point, they were almost all in the most junior roles. There were slightly more opportunities at head office, particularly for rising to management of departments that were entirely or mostly staffed by women.

For Betty, however, the Second World War (1939-1945) created a career opportunity. Once again, banks became short-staffed and had to relax their rules about which jobs women could do. Betty was allowed to serve on the counter at Petersfield at last, gaining the all-important experience that was essential to career progression in bank branches.

After the war, in 1948, Betty got a job in the bank’s much larger branch in Portsmouth. She continued to do typing work, but also worked on ledgers and served behind the counter; in other words, she was doing something much closer to a normal bank clerk’s job, which would not have been open to her when she joined in 1937. At this date, it was also essential to her career that she remained single, since until the early 1950s banks required female staff to resign upon marrying.

Betty went on to work her way up through branch staff roles, and in 1964 became the bank’s first female sub-manager, at Portsmouth North End branch. Three years later she became the branch’s manager; Westminster Bank’s first female manager, and only the fourth in England. It was still a sufficiently notable event to attract press coverage; for example, the Birmingham Daily Post ran the headline ‘Woman is Made Bank Branch Manager.’

It was another three years before a second female manager was reported, and in fact for the rest of her career Betty remained part of a very small minority.