Tag Archives: Victorian servants

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.

 

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The Spirits and “The Servant Problem:” 1892

The age-old Servant Question.

The age-old Servant Question.

ONE OF MR. STEAD’S “PRACTICAL GHOSTS”

The following account has been handed to us by a correspondent. The details are trivial enough in themselves, but by no means unworthy of consideration as indicating watchful care on the part of those who acted as guardians of the family.

The narrative is given as it was sent. It is evidently written with a strong sense of the protective guardianship of unseen friends, and will interest many of our readers, and perhaps set some “Cui bono?” critics thinking:

A short time since I lost my cook, and knowing the difficulty of obtaining servants immediately before Christmas I decided not to try as I had a temporary helper, so excellent in every way that I deemed it wiser to wait till after Christmas. This woman, whom we will designate Mrs. B., was a quiet, seemingly respectable, married woman, who came to my bedroom every morning for orders and executed them in the most satisfactory manner. I must here mention that I was confined to my room with a sprained ankle, and so my daughters had to give all extra small orders and look after the general comfort.

A week passed, and so pleased was I that I had B.‘s husband to dinner on Sunday, and wrote to a country friend desiring her not to trouble about me as I was settled, feeling half inclined to continue with Mrs. B. until we should leave this house. On the Monday she came as usual to my room. I asked her how she felt, as she looked peculiarly heavy, and I imagined she had a headache, but she said she was quite well and we had a few pleasant words, in which she thanked me for my kindness to her husband. On Tuesday the same distinguished politeness marked our proceedings.

An hour afterwards, up came my elder daughter to say that her own father, my first husband, had seized her hand and told her. “That B. is a beast, don’t let her worry your mother.” I laughed at the idea and bade her tell him he must be mistaken. At twelve o’clock both my daughters went out for their daily constitutional, but in less than five minutes my younger child (who is a very strong psychic) rushed up to me, saying that neither she nor her sister found it easy to walk, but her legs actually refused to move, and her hand was seized and she wrote on her dress, “Go back! Go back!” They came back, got pencil and paper, and again the same spirit wrote, “Don’t leave your mother, that beast B. will go and abuse her and upset her.”

Now, to my shame be it recorded, I was quite cross, and said “Really, this is too ridiculous. A quiet, orderly woman like that: I am afraid, my dear, you are getting fanatical.”

However, as they had already arranged that one should go out one half-hour, and the other the next, so that one remained with me. I made no further demur. Now comes the sequel. Within half an hour my elder daughter returned.

This woman B. picked a quarrel with her over nothing, and rushed up to me. My housemaid rushed after her, begging her not to come to me. But my daughter having been forewarned ran so fast as to get in front of her and then dared her to go to my room. The woman seemed quite beside herself, but my daughter’s decision quelled her. Our unseen friends then made rather sarcastic remarks upon my incredulity, and begged me to pay her and send her off, assuring me she was a drunkard and a desperate woman.

They said, “She drinks rum, and has a bottle now in her pocket,” so I followed their advice, and she went; and now comes the test of their perfect veracity. I said to my house maid. “Did you know she drank?” “No, ma’am: but on Sunday her husband brought her a bottle of something, I couldn’t make it out; it was not whisky nor brandy; it was darker, and had such an odd smell. She offered me some, and it did smell so nasty!” I think this amply proves the rum’s identity, and I presume I need make no comment on the value of our dear spirit friends’ warning, for all helped, though my first husband was the first to speak. This is not a dreamy experience, and is the more astonishing to us as we are not used to such phenomena, but rather have spiritual teachings. N.S.

Light, 13 February 1892

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  This instructive anecdote appeared in the Spiritualist journal Light. Many Spiritualists were tee-total. They might call up spirits, but they did not drink them.

“Mr Stead” was journalist and psychic researcher, William Thomas Stead , who died when the Titanic sank, but, undeterred by death, continued to deliver séance communications.

The Drunken Servant was a figure of fun to the comic papers and the terror of mistresses everywhere.  It was bad enough when the intoxicated servant was a man, but a female inebriate was not to be borne. Of course, being the sole domestic (saving the house-maid) over Christmas in a household with an incapacitated mistress might have driven the woman to drink.  Mrs Daffodil does not speak from personal experience, one understands. Mrs Daffodil, although she has had her share of trying lady employers, has found that one needs a clear head to either deal with or dispose of overly-demanding mistresses.

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

society-lady-and-maid-cartoon-1911-a

PRETTY FACES UNDER WHITE CAPS.

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.

LADIES’ MAIDS KEPT GOING

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.

 

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