Late 1800s Domestic Help

Household Staffing: Servants, Maids, Butlers.

Domestic Workers in Homes Large and Small.

Raimundo Madrazo - La Toilette
Raimundo Madrazo – La Toilette c. 1890

Wouldn’t it be lovely to have an extra pair of hands to help with the drudgery of chores? Shopping, cooking, cleaning, gardening, minding the children… And what about 30 pairs of hands?

Today’s excerpt comes from The new cyclopædia of domestic economy, and practical housekeeper. The author’s language, by any modern standard, is artfully profuse, pushing my vocabulary and understanding of English syntax at every turn. Here’s an example of one such sentence that discusses a servant’s temperament:

Another point of main importance is her temper; for if that be not good, she will be disinclined to receive instructions, and, if found at fault with, may, out of pique, spoil a dinner; whereas a good humored intelligent servant, when made acquainted with the habits of the house, and equal to her common duties, will hardly fail in success when called upon by her mistress to try any of these receipts which she has not already used.

Do we need to pause for a moment to catch our breath? 

It’s not uncommon to find household staffing manifests in antique cookbooks. What is interesting about this particular list is that it starts with the grand nobleman’s manor and then works down to the simple household. The author also distinguishes between practices in Britain and America. You can see the cultural divide in lifestyles across the pond.

Victorian Staff for Noble Household

“In the United States so many servants are rarely kept in one family, even among millionaires, or among Southern States, where formerly it was customary for each member of the family to have a separate attendant. An extensive establishment would perhaps number a coachman, groom, porter, footman, gardner, butler, and perhaps a valet and French cook; the female servants consisting of a housekeeper, cook, scullion, lady’s maid, chambermaid, laundrymaid, nurse, and one or more maids-of-all-work. Indeed the most wealthy families keep less than half this number; and the average not more than three women and one man servant. Those with slender income are content with one ‘for general housework’.”

Time to wrap this post up – my weekend to-do list starts with that pile of laundry.

Source: The new cyclopædia of domestic economy, and practical housekeeper. … Ellet, E. F. (Elizabeth Fries), 1818-1877.

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