Tuesday, 10 January 2017
21 May 1881 - 'The Duties of Servants' by Sophia F.A. Caulfield
The question of the respective duties of all classes of domestic servants to their employers, and no less so those of the latter to their paid dependents, is one which often supplies a subject of painful disagreement between the two parties concerned. Unhappily for each, they are too much disposed to regard each other as opponents, actuated by conflicting interests. On the contrary, the well-being and peace of the household forms an important object of interest to each. They have it equally in their own power, respectively, to promote, or mar their mutual comfort and happiness, and to confer more substantial benefit on each other in their own especial departments of duty than money could either purchase or reward. All antagonistic feeling should be extinguished on both sides, and this can be effected without in the least degree interfering with the order of society and of those distinctions of position which exist by the ordinance of God. It is to be recognised throughout all nature, from the humble "hyssop on the wall, to the cedar of Libanus;" "one star differing from another star in glory;" one faithful servant being "ruler over ten cities," and another "over five" only. "The head cannot boast itself," we are told, "against the hand' or the foot; nor can they be envious of the head. For all the members there is a fit and seemly place, and an honourable work to do; and of every arrangement of divine appointment we may be perfectly sure that all is well and wisely ordained.
In giving a general summary of the duties devolving on those employed in every department of female domestic service, I propose to offer a few suggestions both to them, and to those appointed to be heads of households.
The HOUSEKEEPER has the entire direction of all the female servants, with the exception of the lady's maid and the head nurse; receiving the orders of her mistress and acting as her deputy. Excepting where a house steward is kept, it devolves on her to keep the weekly accounts, to enter on her ledger the expenditure of each day; to pay all bills and file receipts; superintend the weighing of meat, to correct the tickets sent with it, and to examine every article sent to the house for the table or otherwise. Should there be a man cook he will relieve her of many of her duties, including that of marketing, one with which she would otherwise be charged. In the case of a female cook being kept, the housekeeper should be prepared to supplement her work as may be found necessary, and to make, as well as to superintend the making of all dishes of a delicate or *recherché kind, and likewise the arrangement of the bill of fare for every meal. The taking in of the fruits in their due season for preserving, and all the direction and assistance requisite for the making of pickles, jams, and confectionery; the preparation of syrups and the bottling of them, and other juices and liquors are also amongst her duties; as also salting of meat, changing of the brine, the curing and smoking of hams, the storing of salted butter and of eggs, the preserving of potted meats, preparation of stock for soup, and in fact, everything connected with the kitchen, larder, store-room, still-room, and dairy; as well as the superintendence of the poultry, and all live stock designed for the table, outside the house, all this comes under her jurisdiction. But her duties must be regulated with each particular family, by the establishment kept, and the character of the house, whether a country seat where most of the necessaries of her several departments of trust are home supplied, or a town mansion where the domestic arrangements are of a different character.
The linen closet and laundry demand her close attention, and she has to give out from the former what is either for use or repair to the under-servants, and to see that the requisite mending be accomplished. The body linen she separates from the rest, and commits to the hands of the lady's maid or head nurse, as the case may be. In the evening she directs the breaking of lump-sugar, washing and stoning of raisins, blanching of almonds, and general preparation of all that will be required for use on the following day.
The inventory, which she should receive on entering her situation, should be carefully compared with everything committed to her charge at stated intervals of six or twelve months, including all the household furniture and kitchen requisites, and a report of wear and tear or deficiencies supplied to her mistress, and entered on the list, if not made good. Her own accounts should likewise be submitted for inspection at least once a month. But all such rules must depend on the wishes of the mistress herself. The wages of a housekeeper vary from £20 to £50 per annum. The "finding" or providing with beer, tea, and sugar, over and above the ordinary food of an indispensible character, is subject to no "hard and fast" rule. It varies, according to private arrangement, as regards every class of domestic servant.
The COOK, where no housekeeper is kept, has a considerable amount of work on her hands besides the cooking of meals, such as the marketing, continual supervision of the larder, the salting of the meat, the making of the preserves, and the baking of cakes and perhaps of bread. She must make the study of cookery her continual business, by reading as well as by practice. She must know when meat of all kinds, and different sorts of game, poultry, and fish are in season. She must study the gardener's calendars to ascertain when certain vegetables and fruits come in, and when to make pickles and jams. The cooking of the dinners and what may be requires for all the other meals, of course devolve on her, and the scullery-maid is under her direction, to whom she should make it a point of conscience to teach, to the best of her ability, the art of cookery. In small households she is required to give some assistance in household work, such as to take the front hall, dining room, hall door, and the steps and pavement in front of a town house under her care; not to speak of the kitchen and all the basement. But where a kitchen-maid is kept, the basement floor, area, pavement and pot and pan, and all floor cleaning, and the bringing in of coal and water, naturally devolve on her, instead of on the cook. But private arrangements may be made by mutual agreement, either increasing or decreasing the legitimate work which a mistress has a right to demand of her cook. Her wages vary from £16 to about £30 per annum.
It will be remembered by the reader that a cook's duties – while she cannot refuse to fulfil those which I have named – may, as I have stated, be multiplied by private arrangement; and must be so, as a matter of course and right, when she undertakes a situation where no housekeeper, nor kitchen-maid is kept. Thus she will have to study the list of that functionary's duties, to be thoroughly acquainted with her own. On this account I have introduced her out of place in the order of precedence amongst servants, in which she ranks after both the lady's maid and the head nurse.
The LADY'S MAID holds a position next to the housekeeper. Her duties commence before her mistress rises; and if tea be taken in bed, it is her duty to bring in the small tray containing it, and the toast or bread and butter she also should prepare. She then places all the underlinen, slippers, and dressing-gown ready for use, takes out the dress and cap to be worn, and remains to assist, or retires for a time, according to her mistress's wishes, until she be summoned for the hair-dressing, and to complete her mistress's toilet. Every such maid should be proficient in the art of dressing hair, and should learn every new style as it comes in. She should also know how to make cleansing washes, and rosemary and other decoctions requisite for the hair, so as to provide them at home; also such necessaries of the toilet as camphor-cake and lip-salve, pomatum, &c. After her lady has left the bed-room, it is her business to fold the night and dressing-gowns, and place all in order before the entrance of the housemaids throwing open the bed and the window, taking out such articles as may need repair or alteration, those requiring fresh lace and frills, and the linen that should be aired. Gloves and boots should likewise be inspected, that buttons may be supplied and small rips sewn up as required. The jewel-case and all private drawers should be locked before leaving the room.
Not only reparations and alterations of dresses come within the limits of her duties, but she should know how to cut out, fit, and make them. She should understand the art of blending colours, so as to become a light or a dark complexion; and her mistress, whether tall or short, stout or slight, fair, sallow, or a brunette, should be to her an object of study; as it is her duty to make her appear at all times to the best advantage. In many houses where a lady's maid is kept, there is no private laundry maid, and thus it is one of her duties to understand the cleaning of lace, "getting up" of fine things, clear starching and gauffering. Also how to preserve furs from moth.
A lady's maid should likewise understand millinery, how to make a bonnet, cap or hat, and should study all the new fashions in their style as they appear in the best shops. She will have to keep an account of all t she expends in reference to her needlework, as she may be entrusted with a certain sum to meet current expenses. It is her duty to count all the body linen on its return from the laundry, to divide all requiring buttons and strings or other repairs from the rest, and to place each set in a separate spot, drawer, or work-basket, after all have been well aired. An inventory should be kept and notice given to her lady when the wardrobe needs to be replenished with new articles. Having inquired at what hour she proposes to go out, it is her duty to be again in attendance at the appointed time, having to place all that is needful, whether for driving, riding, or walking, in readiness for her; and on her return her lady should find the suitable change of dress prepared for her, and the maid awaiting her arrival to attend upon her. A knowledge of folding and packing closely, so as to save space, without injury to clothing, is another of her essential duties, and one in which must deficiency is generally observable amongst them. At a suitable time before dinner the maid should again adjourn to the bed or dressing-room, and lay out all she may require for her evening costume, and be prepared to dress her. On her leaving the room she extinguishes the candles or lets down the gas, and places a screen on the fire. At bed-time all required for night should be put out in readiness, and she should be in attendance until dismissed. In case of going out to dinner, or any kind of evening entertainments, her mistress has a right to expect her to sit up till her return, and see that she has all that she may require, such as tea or sandwiches, hot water, &c. Should the mistress be an invalid or an elderly person, the maid would be required to act more or less as a nurse, and would have to read aloud, which she should study to do agreeably, and to write letters at dictation, on which account her writing and spelling should be thoroughly good. But under these circumstances many of the duties required of her by a younger mistress, and one in good health and going into society would not be required of her, so that her work would not be excessive. In small families some of the duties of a housekeeper are united with those of the lady's maid. Her wages vary, according to her efficiency in all her duties, from £18 to £30 per annum.
An UPPER NURSE should have a thorough acquaintance with all the ailments to which infants and children are commonly liable. She should therefore have some reliable book on the subject of nursing the sick, and children in particular, always by her, and keep her memory perpetually refreshed on all points, so as to recognise the first symptoms of every complaint, and to be prepared for all emergencies. She should also study all questions relative to attendance upon her mistress, so as to nurse her, and supplement the services of the regular nurse temporarily hired. Her place is in the nursery, for meals as well as for a sitting and work-room, should it happen that there were no day-nursery; and only when her charges are asleep for the night can she leave them in the care of the under nurse, or housemaid, to take her supper in the housekeeper's room, or with the other servants if there e none. The only female servants who have a right to avail themselves at all times, for meals and otherwise, of the housekeeper's room are the upper nurse and the lady's maid. The washing and dressing of a young infant must be exclusively done by the upper nurse, and that of the older children by the under nurse, always by the supervision of the former. She must take them out, wheel their carriage, and carry them in turn with her assistants. She has the dress and under-linen to make and mend, and she has the assistance of the under nurse, who acts at all times under her directions, helps her to make the bed, and does the rough work of cleaning the room and grate, making the fire, and bringing up the water and all the meals. Should the nurse be single-handed, she must be prepared to keep the nursery in all due order herself, and obtain assistance from the under housemaid, or the single-handed housemaid, as she could not be expected to leave her charge to fetch water, coals, nor the daily meals. She also lights her own fire when single-handed, unless assisted by the housemaid, and makes the beds. A head nurse receives from £18 to £25 or £30 per annum. Ordinary single-handed nurses in small households receive less. But the qualifications, experience, and age of the latter must always regulate the amount of wages expected, even should a valuable servant prefer a situation in a small family of limited means, and to undertake the whole charge of the nursery and its young occupants, to a situation of a higher character.
The UPPERHOUSE MAID. – The duties that devolve on this class of domestic servants are comparatively light, but they are only well performed by a careful, industrious woman – methodical, gentle in touch, and one who "has her eyes about her," knowing how to direct and superintend, and is not above assisting in any duties which are performed by the under-housemaid. Whether she be aided in her work, or be single-handed, that work must be the same in every house, great or small. The cleaning and arrangement of the breakfast room, boudoir, and then the drawing-room, should be accomplished before the family leave their bed-rooms; just as the cleaning of the hall, hall door, steps before it, and dining-room are all done by the cook or kitchen maid before their appearance downstairs. While the family are at breakfast the bed-rooms have to be set in order, the windows opened, the beds shaken and turned, the slops emptied, and all crockery washed and scalded, carafes, jugs, and tins refilled; a T-shaped sweeping brush wrapped in a wet cloth passed under the bed and all round the room where there may be no carpet; and a damp and dry duster employed in successively removing the dust from the whole room, especially all the ledges in the wood-work. The table, looking-glass, and cheval-glass, or that in the wardrobe door, should be well polished. The rugs should be taken out and shaken daily, the grate and irons cleaned; the cinders must be sifted from the ashes, and the latter removed before the dusting of the room, and the bed also, having been previously shaken and turned, may be re-made without making any fresh dust, the last thing in the finishing of the work. The making of the bed is no unimportant matter, as there is much variety of taste, and one person does not like the bed to be made as another may like it to be arranged. Thus the housemaid should observe what alterations have been made in the amount and ordering of the clothes, and also inquire whether any change would be agreeable. Housemaids are little aware how often the beds are completely re-made by their occupants, as visitors never like to give directions to the servants of their hosts, even in reference to the room especially allotted to their own use, and many are the comments made o dullness, and want of observation of those who attend to the bed-making.
The cleaning of the paint and of the windows, the washing of china ornaments, and the polishing of the furniture (if need be) should be the work appointed for a certain day in every week, a room or more being completely cleaned every week. The wiping down of the uncovered portions of the stairs and landings, and upper corridors and passages with a damp cloth should be the housemaid's daily work, but when two are kept it devolves on the under maid. The taking out of each rod, one at a time, to wipe underneath the carpet, should be done weekly, on a certain day, and each rod rubbed with a leather before being returned to its place. It is a most inconvenient and unsightly habit, adopted by half-trained maids, to always be taking up the whole of the stair carpet at once. Furniture polish should also be applied to the top of the balusters at intervals, and careful rubbing performed afterwards.
It is the housemaid's business to collect and count the linen to be washed, under the housekeeper's or lady's maid's supervision, weekly; to mend and hem the house-linen, and also to count all on its return home. She has to take down, shake, and put up the curtains and hangings; attend also to all the rugs and cushions in the house, and destroy all moths and flies which may be found behind the shutters in the spring or early summer. Of course, much devolves on the housemaid which properly is the work of the lady's maid, if there be none in the establishment, and in various ways in the nursery, and even sometimes in waiting at table, if only one man-servant be kept. It is also very usual for the office of housemaid to be combined with that of parlour maid, and this demands great quickness, method, and extra knowledge – such as that of cleaning plate, knives, lamps (including the entire management of the latter), the laying of the table, and the art of waiting well – observantly, in reference to the requirements of each individual at the table, quickly and noiselessly. As a housemaid's duties may be so much regulated by the circumstances of the establishment kept, she may have, as I said, to include some of those which naturally belong to the lady's maid, nurse, and footman, and must not be ready to say "this or that is not my work." She will also have to answer the hall door at certain times, if not always. Her wages range from £15 to £25 per annum.
The UNDER HOUSEMAID, UNDER NURSE and KITCHEN MAID are directed by the servants holding a higher position in the same department of service as themselves; and, with the exception of remarking that the kitchen maid is expected to dress the nursery and kitchen dinner, it is not necessary to enter into any detailed account of the work of each respectively. The wages of all these maids vary from £9 to £14.
A GENERAL SERVANT should be a very well-informed person, particularly active, methodical and intelligent; yet she is usually more ignorant and more incompetent than any other class or servants. Well-trained and experienced persons naturally object to the almost never-ceasing work which their situation entails; but quickness and a judicious timing of all the work to be done will, with the kindly aid of her mistress, enable her so to get through her duties – if the dinner be an early one – and enable her to have a quiet hour or two for her own needlework or reading before bedtime. She will have to be an early riser, and she must manage her work so as to be dressed in the afternoon, to attend the hall door when visitors may be expected; but the enumeration of all her duties is superfluous in this place, as she needs only to study the directions given to the cook, housemaid, and parlour-maid to be fully acquainted with all her own work. Her wages vary, according to her efficiency as a cook especially, from £8 to £18.
Upon the duties of the Laundry and Under Laundry Maids, the still-room and the Dairy Maids it is scarcely necessary that I should write, and I hope in my next paper to add a few friendly words to those of my readers who have selected domestic service as their vocation.