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Desperate Measures - 19th Century Working Women

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A group of domestic workers in their workplace

A life of service

In 1851 40 percent of working women were in domestic service.  This was the most common workplace for women pre-industrialization.


In general, the work of running the home was taken care of the mistress of the home, while the work of maintaining the home was the responsibility of the domestic workers.  These workers were often treated as part of the family, even eating meals and attending church together.  The mistress of the home considered it her responsibility to ensure the servants behaved appropriately and chastised or rewarded the servants like they were her own children. 


Servants came from both middle class and lower class families and the hierarchy of external society was repeated in the mircrososm of the home.  For a literary example we can look to "Jane Eyre" to understand how this hierarchy worked.  Mrs. Fairfax is Rochester's poor relation.  She is given the the highest position in the home and runs it as though it is her own.  Male servants were considered a luxury and were paid more for their service.  It was actually a mark of distinction to run a home employing several male domestics. 


The work was hard and the days were long.  Servants usually began their day at 5:30 and went to bed with the owners.  There were no vacations, no visitors allowed and pay for some people was simply room and board. 

The Life of a Servant - The Hierarchy, Wages, Rules of Engagement.

This weg page was created as a class assignment for English 3622 - "Women's Writing" at The University of New Brunswick in Saint John.  Below is a link to the course blog.  Check it out to see what we've been up to.

Course Blog for English 3622 - Winter 2005