Tag Archives: the servant question

Girl Wanted: 1874

Lady: “But I very much dislike dogs in the kitchen!”
Cook: “Then it would be no use my engaging of myself, Ma’am—for my object is to get a comfortable home for Tiny and myself!”
Punch 10 April 1875: p. 159

GIRL WANTED

Yes, I want another—”A tidy girl to do house-work in a small family—good wages and a good home.” That’s the way my advertisement always reads, and as soon as the paper is out the girls commence coming. Tidy girls from ten to sixty-five years old come pulling the bell, and when told that they won’t suit they put on such a look of contempt for the door, the door-plate, the front gate and the entire institution, that the world seems three degrees hotter than before.

I always engage the girl. This is because of an idea of mine that I can read human nature, and because I do not fear to tell them in plain English what is expected of them. After the door-bell has been pulled about five times, the right-looking sort of a girl makes her appearance. She says she saw the advertisement, and is invited in. She says she can do any kind of cooking; loves to wash; is fond of children; can never sleep after five o’clock in the morning; never goes out evenings; does not know a young man in Detroit, and she’d be willing to work for low wages for the sake of getting a good home.

She is told to drop her bundle, lay off her things and go to work, and a great burden rolls off my mind as I congratulate myself that the prize-medal girl has arrived at last. She’s all right up to about seven in the evening, when she is suddenly missed, and returns about ten o’clock to say that she “just dropped out” to get a postage-stamp. The next day she begins to scatter the tea-spoons in the back-yard, stops her ironing to read a dime novel, and at supper-time wants to know if I can’t send the children off to live with their grandfather, get a cook stove with silver-plated knobs and have an addition built to the kitchen. That evening a big red-headed butcher walks in, crosses his legs over the kitchen table, and proceeds to court Sarah. She doesn’t last but a day or two longer, and then we secure another.

This one is right from New Hampshire, and doesn’t know a soul in Michigan, and yet she hasn’t finished the dinner dishes before a cross-eyed young man rings the bell and says he’d like to see Hannah for a moment. After seeing him, Hannah concludes not to stay, as we are so far from St. John’s church, and as we don’t appear to be religious people.

The next one especially recommends herself as being “just like their own mother” to the children, and isn’t in the house half a day before she draws Small Pica over her knee and gives him a regular old Canadian waltz.

The next one has five recommendations as a neat and tidy girl, and yet it isn’t three days before she bakes the shoe brush with the beef, washes her hands in a soup tureen, or drops hairpins into the pudding.

I growl about these things after a while, but I am met with the statement that they had worked five years for Governor this, or Lord that, and that in all that time no one had so much as looked cross-eyed at them. I am called mean, ill-tempered, particular, fault-finding, and all that, and the girl goes away wondering why the Lord has spared me as long as He has.

We’ve been wanting “a good, tidy girl” for these last twelve years, and I suppose that we may go another dozen and still be wanting.

“Quad’s Odds” M. Quad, 1874: p. 173

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Domestics come and domestics go, but The Servant Question is eternal….

Mrs Daffodil has been fortunate in her selection and retention of staff, but the many jokes on saucy servants and demanding domestics hide the pain of those in suburban villas and New York brownstones longing for a Girl.

Mrs. Hiram Daly — “And so you’ve got your old cook back! I thought you told me she was married about three months ago, and had gone to housekeeping.”

Mrs. Riverside Rives — “She has given up housekeeping and has come back to me.”

Mrs. Hiram Daly — “What was the matter?”

Mrs. Riverside Rives — “She couldn’t get a girl.” — Puck, 1893

Mistress (severely) — “If such a thing occurs again, Norah, I shall have to get another servant.”

Norah — “I wish yer would; there’s easily enough work fer two of us.” — Tit-Bits. 1901

Binks: Oh, yes, she carries herself like an empress, and bosses me around all she likes now; but wait until we are married, and then see how she’ll fawn and cringe.

Winks: To you?

Binks: No, to the servant girl.

The Philipsburg [MT] Mail 15 August 1895: p. 7

Mrs. A: “I see you have got a new servant girl.”

Ms. B. “Yes, I make it a point to get a new one every month.”

Mrs. A: “But that must be very inconvenient.”

Mrs. B: “Yes, but there’s nothing going on in this town that I don’t know all about it.”

Illinois State Register [Springfield, IL] 28 August 1887: p. 2

First suburban — ” Hello, Smith! You are got up regardless. Going to a wedding?”

Second suburban— “No. I’m going in town to try to engage a cook, and I wish to create a good impression.” — Bazar, 1892

Mistress (trying to be agreeable) “What are your favorite dishes, Bridget?”

The new cook: “To ate or to break, mum?” 

Daily Illinois State Register [Springfield IL] 2 April 1907: p. 10

 

Mrs Daffodil has previously written on How to Spoil Servants

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.

 

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

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