How to Spoil Servants: 1884

The Servant Question

The Servant Question

When two lady-housekeepers meet it rarely happens that conversation does not drift in the direction of servants and the trouble they occasion in the household. A good servant, one who is faithful to duty and who identifies herself with the interests of the family, is the exception, and the indifferent, wasteful, and slovenly the rule. A much better state of things would doubtless prevail if more care were given to the orderly arrangement of servants’ work and duties as well as to their personal needs and comfort. Too often they are treated as mere working machines, and not as human beings with human needs, weaknesses, inherited peculiarities, and defective training. Nothing is done to lift them into self-respect or into a grateful sense of kindness and consideration. Until there is a great change in the way the average mistress treats the average servant, she will not get a better service than that of which she now so loudly complains.

The following, the source of which we do not know, is so excellent an example of the way in which to make good servant that we give it a place in our magazine. It will bear careful reading and cannot fail to lead some, who have not been as thoughtful as they might have been, to change their manner of treating domestic dependents:

“I never shall forget the servants’ sleeping-rooms in a very simple household I once was in. Everything was fresh and clean and wholesome-looking. The two iron bedsteads comfortably made, the window-curtains spotless, the two bureaus neatly arranged, the floor nicely matted, and with a strip of carpet before each bed, and on the wall some pretty colored pictures. The mistress of this genial, simple house told me that she labored for a year before she could induce her two maids to see the beauty and comfort of such order, but that now they felt it keenly, and it had affected their work and spirits very visibly. Near their kitchen was a small room, which Mrs. had fitted up snugly

for a sitting-room and a place to take their meals in. There was a chest of drawers, in which were their napkins and tablecloths and their own bed-linen, and a nice glass-doored case showed their china. My friend told me that for some time her maids actually preferred to use the kitchen, but she finally won them over to a great pride in their neat little room, and she said the effect upon their characters and work was speedily visible. Occasionally she would bring in some flowers or pretty, inexpensive ornament for them; she took a good, illustrated weekly paper entirely for their use, requiring them to file it, and before long a genuine taste for refinement of surroundings and manner had developed. These two servants had come to her very uncouth and untutored, but certainly when I saw them, after three years’ residence with Mrs.___, they were by far the most refined, respectful, and well-mannered servants I have ever seen in America. Of course, some people would-aver this sort of consideration would ‘spoil’ a servant, but it seems to me that the very first means of teaching the servant to-day what she ought to do is to make her feel that her mistress’ house is her home, the place in which she is to live, not the place she is to work in as little as possible and escape from during every possible hour. A servant should be taught to respect the Lares and Penates about her as if they were her very own.”

Arthur’s Home Magazine, Volume 52, 1884

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  How very fortunate Mrs. ___ was, in having refined, respectful, and well-mannered servants! Mrs Daffodil wishes that she could say the same for the staff in the many various households in which she has served. There was Nancy, the still-room maid, decapitated in a romp with the young master. And Robert, a handsome footman, who became emeshed with Her Grace, the spoilt young American-born Duchess of Spofford and was fished out of the Thames, in a singularly less handsome state. To speak frankly, in the complex rush of life between master and staff, the staff seems doomed to end up dead or dismissed without a character.

One of the greatest evils of the Great War was that it demonstrated to many otherwise useful parlour-maids that there were occupations offering far more scope for pleasure than a life in service.

However, our plucky American cousins rose to the occasion. Here is the “servant co-operative,” which they developed:

The vexatious servant-girl question has at last been solved, at least to the satisfaction of fifteen Binghampton [New York, one presumes] women. They are the wives of clerks and small merchants who, owing to the hard times are not able to keep a corps of servants ; neither are they able to do their own house-work. They have organized what is called the “Housewife’s Circuit.” each member contributing two dollars a week. This furnishes them with a chamber-maid, who comes in every morning and does the house-work, and a cook, who calls and prepares the meals ready for placing over the fire, making the cooking process an ordinary and simple matter for the housewife. The sum thus realized allows the payment of eight dollars a week to the chamber-maid, twelve dollars a week to the cook, and five dollars a week to a woman who superintends affairs, sees that the customers are properly served, and makes collections. The plan has worked so well that it will doubtless be widely imitated. The Argonaut [San Francisco, CA] 2 May 1898

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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