Tag Archives: servant problem

She Asked for His Photograph: 1897


A Lover Who Easily Fell Into an Ingenious Trap.

She was particularly gracious that night, and he was correspondingly happy.  He felt that he had made an impression at last.

She let him hold her hand a minute when she welcomed him, and he thought–in fact, he was quite sure–that she responded to the gentle squeeze he gave it, and heretofore she had been so distant, so cold, although always courteous. Surely it was enough to make him feel happy. Then she laughed at his witticisms, and there was something in her manner that invited him to draw his chair closer to hers. Of course he accepted the invitation, and almost before he knew it he found himself whispering all sorts of silly things to her, while she listened with downcast eyes.

It was blissful, and yet there was a greater pleasure in store for him. She blushed and hesitated a little as she asked if he had a photograph of himself.

Of course he had, and she should have one that very night. He would go for one at once. She protested that that was not necessary, but he insisted. She should have anything that she wanted and have it at once.

She thanked him so coyly and sweetly when he brought it that the boy was nearly insane with joy, and when he left she let him hold her hand again for a minute.

Then, as he walked away with a light step and a light heart, she handed the photograph to her maid and said with decision:

“Mary, hang that in the servants’ hall, where every one can see it, and remember that I am never home when he calls. I must stop this thing somehow, and mamma changes servants so often he gets in every week or two now.”

The Copper County Evening News [Calumet MI] 19 August 1897: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  A little-known consequence of the Servant Problem…


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

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

Pretty Maids All in a Row: 1888



The Prevailing Fashion for Employing Attractive Ladies’ Maids.

From the New York Mail and Express

It is a fashionable fad at present to employ the prettiest and nattiest hand-maidens that money can hire. On a fine afternoon in the crosstown streets and parks the stroller may see some really charming specimens of young womanhood. A general daintiness of attire, which is further increased by the demure white cap, is their chief characteristic. These maids form a privileged class among our modern servants. They look with equal scorn upon the old-fashioned Southern  nurse, whom they have gradually supplanted, and the recently-landed Irish girl, who is much their social inferior. Most of them, too, are bright, intelligent young women, who understand thoroughly all the mysteries of the toilet, the packing of trunks, and the art of sewing, and on some occasions even the keeping of their mistresses’ private accounts.

For these maids the policeman, with all his advantages of uniform and authority, has little charms, it is the natty English groom, or the smooth-faced butler, with the manners of Lord Chesterfield, that they are naturally attracted towards, and who generally, in time, becomes the successful suitor for her hands.

Their life is a very pleasant one. In summer they visit the best watering places of this country, and a European trip affords no novelty to this privileged class. When one compares the arduous duties and long hours of the shop-girl with the easy fortunes of the modern ladies’ maid, it is a wonder that more young girls do not adopt the latter calling, even at the sacrifice of a little personal pride.

St. Louis [MO] Post-Dispatch 5 March 1888: p. 7

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has served several ladies in the capacity of lady’s maid and is pursing her lips dubiously at the author’s assertion about the life being a “very pleasant one.” Certainly some mistresses are more amiable than others—Mrs Daffodil has had the unpleasant duty of committing one, the wife of one of the wealthiest men in England, to a lunatic asylum after the young Duchess attempted to “frame,” as the Americans say, Mrs Daffodil for a murder, which, uncharacteristically, she had not committed. And “easy fortunes?” If the work is not physically heavy, one is still a slave to the mistress’s lace and lingerie and the hours may often be longer than those of the shop-girl.


New York Society Women See That They Get Little Leisure.

A New York letter to the new Orleans Picayune says: The duties of a lady’s maid, says one of them, are almost constant, if seldom heavy. One may have leisure for half a day or scarcely get a breathing spell of ten minutes in twenty-four hours. There is not a great deal of variation. I get up at 7 in the morning and am through my bath and toilet in time for breakfast at 8. Immediately afterward I take a pot of chocolate and the morning papers to my mistress, and while she drinks the chocolate I read from the papers aloud. Her mail is brought up at 9, and I manicure her hands while she reads it. Then I prepare her bath, and afterward arrange her hair and dress her for her 10 o’clock breakfast.

While the chambermaid is doing up her room I arrange her toilet brushes and boxes and get out her afternoon dress. I have my dinner at noon. If my mistress feels like napping after luncheon I read her to sleep. If she goes shopping I usually accompany her. At 3 I dress her for her afternoon drive and at 6 for dinner. I have supper at 7, and the evening is generally my own, but I go to bed early when my mistress is out, because when she comes home I have to undress her, brush out her hair, give hr a cup of hot bouillon, and read her to sleep. Brushing, mending, and making over her dresses, attending to her laces, and looking after her linen, take up most of my spare time. Sunday afternoon I always have to myself, and altogether I am very well satisfied. Ladies who require the attendance of maids have to treat them with a certain degree of consideration in order to keep them.

Once I lived with a woman who would not open her eyes in the morning until I had bathed them with rose water, and who compelled me to brush her feet for her. I found out that before her marriage she did all the housework for her father and a family of several children, and the discovery so irritated me that I soon conjured up a pretext for leaving her.

New Haven [CT] Register 10 January 1890: p. 1

Some of the more outré or unpleasant duties of a lady’s maid Mrs Daffodil has either performed or heard of: injecting perfume into the lady’s veins via hypodermic syringe, seeking out gossip at summer resorts and whispering flattering rumours about one’s mistress, evading the attentions of the son of the household, and lending money to one’s employer at 25 per annum.

Of course the usual duties involve clear-starching, sitting up to all hours until one’s mistress returns from the ball, and reading over letters received from the lady’s admirers. One never knows when such innocent communications may be useful. Mrs Daffodil, who is something of a connoisseuse of that class of literature, has added substantially to her savings merely by neglecting to burn several little ribbon-tied packets, as instructed by various mistresses. She often grieves for her carelessness on wet afternoons.

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

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.


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.