Martindale, Hilda (1875–1952), civil servant and social reformer, was born 12 March 1875 at Leytonstone, London, the daughter of William Martindale (who died some months before she was born) and his wife, Louisa, née Spicer (1839–1914). Mrs Martindale moved her family – Hilda, her sister Louisa, and two half-brothers and two half-sisters from their father's first marriage – first to Penzance and then to Germany and Switzerland. She was a firm believer in education for women, and Hilda and Louisa both attended Royal Holloway College. Hilda was interested in the welfare of women and children, and it was out of this interest and under the influence of women such as the social reformer Josephine Butler (1828–1906) and the theosophist and politician Annie Besant (1847–1933), as well as her activist mother, that her future employment came.
Following a world tour with her mother and sister in 1900, during which she took the opportunity to visit institutions for the poor wherever she went, Martindale accepted the offer of a post from Adelaide Anderson (1863–1936), principal lady inspector of factories for the Home Office. Along with five other lady inspectors, she investigated irregularities, followed up on complaints, and reported on working conditions in factories and workshops, where laws on hours, statutory meal breaks, and Sunday working were often abused or ignored. Where evidence could be documented, offending employers were prosecuted. Martindale worked with the Home Office inspectorate for the next thirty-two years.
In 1905 Martindale was sent to Ireland, and was based in the Shelbourne Hotel in Dublin. This proved to be a difficult posting. Many women in rural areas were still employed in their own homes as ‘out-workers’ doing piece work for employers. Laws drawn up to deal with conditions of employment in Lancashire hardly seemed to address the working conditions in the small woollen mills that Martindale encountered in the west of Ireland, where infringements against the Truck Acts of 1896 (laws passed prohibiting the payment of wages in any form other than coin of the realm) were endemic. Martindale's peripatetic inspectorate took her all over Ireland, but workers were often suspicious of an English inspector and employers were frequently openly hostile. She investigated working conditions in laundries, including those run by religious and charitable institutions: in 1907 an amendment to the 1901 Factory Act was passed, bringing all practising laundries more closely under the law. Martindale also reported on the long working hours, poor working conditions, poor food, and lack of proper safeguards in residential institutions, such as orphanages. In 1908, on her promotion to senior inspector, she moved to Belfast, but attitudes to her remained hostile and the courts were slow to prosecute cases. Through the systematic gathering of evidence she and her team made progress to protect ‘half-timers’ (children whose day was divided between work and school), child factory workers, and women coming back to employment after childbirth. In response to their work, the National Health Insurance Act of 1911 provided modest relief for maternity. Earlier the Trades Boards Act of 1909 attempted to regulate wages.
Martindale's work received much publicity and she was frequently invited to speak in public. She addressed audiences in Alexandra College, Dublin, at the Irish branch of the industrial law committee, and in 1911 at the congress of the Royal Sanitary Institute in Belfast. In 1912 she returned to England as senior lady inspector for the heavily industrialised midlands, where many women were employed in the potteries. She wrote an influential report on lead poisoning in brick-works. During the first world war she extended the work of her team to cover industrial injuries sustained by women who were then replacing men in heavy industry, working closely with employers, the Ministry of Munitions, the health of munitions workers committee, and women trade unionists. In 1918 she was made senior lady inspector for the south-east division.
In 1921, following the amalgamation of the male and female inspectorate, Martindale was appointed as a superintendent inspector, with men reporting to her. Three years later she was invited by the government of Northern Ireland to make a general survey on working conditions for women in factories. In 1933 she became director for women's establishments at the Treasury, where she tried unsuccessfully to remove the bar on married women's employment within the civil service. Martindale was appointed CBE in 1935. She continued to be in demand to speak in public, strongly favoured women's colleges in universities, and actively maintained her struggle for equality for women within the civil service. On her retirement she wrote a history of women in the civil service entitled Women servants of the state, 1870–1938 (1938). In 1944 she published From one generation to another, 1839–1944, and in 1948 Some Victorian portraits and others.
Martindale died in London on 18 April 1952. She left a bequest to give financial assistance to girls who were seeking an education in order to pursue some profession or career likely ‘to be of use or value to the community’. This trust continues and is administered at Royal Holloway College, London.
Throughout her career as an inspector, Martindale laboured to improve the working conditions of women and children in Britain and Ireland, and she forged a career path for women who sought professional posts at the highest level of the civil service. Through example, she sought to have women's talents appreciated and rewarded on an equal basis with those of their male counterparts.