A modern maid may grumble about having his hands full with the housework, but the duties of even the most devoted of domestics pale in comparison to those the servants of the past were expected to undertake. Without the assistance of any of the labour-saving devices so easily taken for granted today, generations of girls slaved away to keep their superiors in the comfort they were accustomed to, knowing that long days of menial drudgery were their lot for life.
bygone maids presents a selection of genuine books from previous centuries, transcribed and formatted for your reading pleasure. These vintage maid manuals not only offer a fascinating historical insight into the forgotten lives of female servants and those they answered to, but can also serve as a means of instilling an appropriately submissive mindset in today's male maid. Whether you're looking for serious material for a housemaid husband to copy, recite or just read, you'll find plenty of austere words here.
A Catechism for Servants is an ideal introduction to the genre. This short pamphlet was published in 1843 with the aim of helping the housemaid and the delightfully titled “servant of all work” to learn their duties. Presented as a dialogue between mistress and maid, it instructs the reader not only in the correct approach to chores, but also the behaviour regarded as appropriate for a servant. Its simple answers lend themselves to being memorised, even by a modern man.
The Duties of Female Servants is a substantially longer work in a similar vein. Forming part of the Finchley Manuals of Industry, a series of Victorian texts intended for teaching in industrial schools, this book of 1850 explores in detail every aspect of the duties of the maid of all work, the house and parlour maid, and the laundry maid. From how to make toast and water to ways of destroying beetles, no chore is left unconsidered in this comprehensive survey of a servant's wide-ranging responsibilities.
The Servant's Behaviour Book is a particularly patronising work, written in 1859 by the inappropriately named Mrs Motherly - a hard to please mistress of the sort many sissy maids might dream of serving, but who surely must have made life very difficult for the female servants whose failings she so critically relates. The latter were expected to know their place, with the tone adopted throughout the book making abundantly clear the gulf in class between humble housemaids and the ladies they served.
The Duties of a Lady's Maid, published in 1825, purports to consider the responsibilities of a slightly higher class of female servant, but actually consists of two rather contrasting parts. The overt religiosity of the first half exemplifies the austere attitudes of the era, anchoring a servant's submission in the authority of scripture. In contrast, the second section is a contradictory mishmash of contemporary and historical fashions, cautioning against old-fashioned follies while recommending “receipts” (recipes) for home-made cosmetics that will seem equally bizarre to the modern reader.
The Expert Maid-Servant, written by Christine Terhune Herrick, is the most recent of the texts presented here, being published in 1904. With the exception of its final chapter, it is intended for mistresses rather than maids, discussing how the lady of the house can get the best out of her domestic servants. From how to hire a maid through to means of correcting common problems, it takes a comparatively compassionate approach, accepting that the young women employed for cleaning are only human, yet not allowing them to take undue liberties.
Although all these books have long since fallen out of copyright, previously available digitisations have left something to be desired, as might be expected from automated scanning. With a view to making these works more widely available, I tasked my housemaid husband with producing accurate transcriptions of their text, a devotion which served to deepen his understanding of the historic footsteps he was following in. Let there be no doubt - a motivated male maid has much more incentive to get things right than even the cleverest of computers! Save for correcting obvious typographical errors, the sometimes archaic spelling and punctuation have otherwise been left unaltered.
Simply reading any of these texts will give any man a greater appreciation for the amount of work that was once expected of a female servant. It might amuse you, however, to have a male maid copy out parts of them, perhaps into a notebook kept specially for the purpose, whether as a punishment or merely a means of occupying his time. My husband advises me that the fashion histories and cosmetic recipes, with their abundance of unfamiliar terms, were especially tedious to transcribe, but you could equally expect a misbehaving maid to duplicate a long passage on duty. Alternatively, you could have him recite sections, possibly even from memory - the dialogues are particularly suitable in this regard, whether you choose to play the part of the mistress, or simply have your maid address himself while standing in front of a mirror. For a more cerebral challenge, why not have him write an essay about the similarities or differences between his domestic service and that of the girls described in the books? In any case, these works offer a wealth of possibilities for the modern mistress and maid - even if their authors would never have considered their words ever being used to train men in such a way!
If you're looking for a more modern maid training manual, he's the maid will tell you everything you need to know to get your husband to help with the housework.