Women have had to fight for progress through the centuries, gaining rights such as voting and being able to obtain a higher education. In days gone by, for example, it was highly unusual for a woman to be a medical doctor. Great strides have been made, though salary equality is still not a reality in many occupations. One profession which has always been dominated and almost entirely populated by males is chimney sweeping. While it is a dirty job, there is nothing about the work that makes it an impractical pursuit for women. Though few and far between, there are female chimney sweeps in places across the world.
Gina Somerton, who grew up in Wells-Next-the-Sea, Norfolk, never dreamed of being a chimney sweep when she was young. Instead, she envisioned becoming a hairdresser. She had jobs in restaurants and as a shop assistant through the years, then her occupation took an unexpected turn in her mid-30s. Inspired by a conversation with her partner’s mom, she began to consider that becoming a chimney sweep might be the perfect source of income for her.
Gina wanted the opportunity to spend time with her three children when they were out of school for the summer, and she wanted to be her own boss. She started up a business called “Lady Sweep,” and it has been a thriving business for seven years. Gina admits that chimney sweeping is a dirty job, but all that’s needed for that is a shower after work.
A former worker at a call center, Dawn Peters is currently one of only three female chimney sweeps in all of Britain.
Dawn says that after her former employer gave her the boot, she faced limited options. Working on computer was hard for her because of medical problems. One day her partner commented that she could do a better job than a particularly rude chimney sweep that had worked on chimneys at her home, and she took up the challenge. Dawn says she went to chimney school and got started chimney sweeping.
Dawn says, “It’s a fantastic business if you don’t mind getting a bit dirty.”
Dawn cleans chimneys that use all kinds of different fuels – coal, oil, gas, and wood. It has surprised her that, in today’s society, some stove suppliers have refused to promote her because she is a woman chimney sweep.
The old legend that chimney sweeps give good luck at weddings is one that Dawn has a lot of fun with. She says, “I turn up in a top hat and tails with my traditional rod and brush, ready to pose with the happy couple or tell a limerick. It all depends on what the couple wants, but it’s supposed to bring good luck.”
While chimney sweeping is a man’s job stereotypically, Dawn says a woman can do the job; you don’t have to be strong, just fit.
There are only five women in California who are CSIA Certified Chimney Sweeps, and Michaele Dempsey is one of them. She and her husband own a chimney sweep business and have more professional credentials than any others sweeps in Kings and Tulare Counties. Michaele attends many workshops related to chimney sweeping and says that she enjoys and has benefited from the excellent training provided by the National Chimney Sweep Guild and California’s Golden State Chimney Sweep Guild, which she is the current president of.
The chimney sweep profession today is respected, as it provides an important and much-needed service, one that can be performed with excellence by both men and women.
Northeastern Chimney, Inc.
formerly Nayaug Chimney Services, LLC
37 Cody Street, West Hartford, CT 06110