Hiring a Cook: 1884


Hiring a Cook.

About noon yesterday I met a family man steaming down Fourteenth street toward Sixth Avenue in a state of considerable mental excitement.

“Those infernal servants of mine are bothering me again,” he explained hotly, “And I’m going to fix things up this very morning. I know a capable girl when I see her, and my wife doesn’t. That’s the difference. Hitherto my wife has done the hiring, but now I propose to take a hand. Come down and see me hire a cook.”

When we rushed into the office five minutes later, the solemn woman at the desk did not look up, but the two rows of domestics turned forty or fifty heads toward us with more or less interest.

“I want a cook,” said my friend sharply. “A good plain cook.”

The woman at the desk continued to write without even looking at us. I sat down on the window sill and tried to figure out the percentage of American faces in the two long rows, while the man who wanted a cook stormed up and down, explaining his views to the solemn woman in black. She did not notice. After a tedious wait she folded her letter, sealed it, and put in the mail box. Then she wiped her pen carefully on an old rag, and put it in the drawer. After examining her nails casually she rang a bell and said, “Twenty-seven” sharply. A paper lay on the desk. She took it up, opened it calmly, and turning her back, began to read with entire absorption.

“Twenty-seven” wore a jersey, a sneer, a pair of lace gloves, and a mouthful of variegated and full-sized teeth. She walked forward, planted herself before my friend and said, before he had time to speak:

“House or flat?”



“No. I want__”


“Two; my__”

“How many in th’ fammerly?”

“Six. But see here___”

“Up town?”


“What d’ y’ pay?”

“Eighteen dollars.”


With which the cook turned on her heel with withering contempt, and the Man Who Wanted a Cook and I went meekly forth. As I glanced back I thought I saw a furtive smile lurking about the corners of the mouth of the solemn woman in black.

Auckland [NZ] Star 24 December 1884: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A good plain cook might command $18-$30 wages. However, whether that was for the week or for the month depended on the location: cooks in the California gold fields earned $25 per day. Cooks were notoriously touchy about their wages and jealous of their perquisites: they were to have the dripping to sell, carte blanche in setting the menu, and their choice of foodstuff vendors, from whom they took a commission. A good cook was worth her weight in rubies and there was much competition between society hostesses, with ladies trying to lure a prized cook away with higher wages. The loss of a cook could be tragic, as Mr H. H. Munro, that perceptive observer of the social scene, wrote:

There was a fellow I stayed with once in Warwickshire who farmed his own land, but was otherwise quite steady. Should never have suspected him of having a soul, yet not very long afterwards he eloped with a lion-tamer’s widow and set up as a golf-instructor somewhere on the Persian Gulf; dreadfully immoral, of course, because he was only an indifferent player, but still, it showed imagination. His wife was really to be pitied, because he had been the only person in the house who understood how to manage the cook’s temper, and now she has to put “D.V.” on her dinner invitations. Still, that’s better than a domestic scandal; a woman who leaves her cook never wholly recovers her position in Society.  “Reginald on House-Parties,” Saki

[D.V. signifies “God willing.” “C.V.” would seem more apt.]

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

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