Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Servant Question

From the Derbyshire Courier,  11th September 1915.

We are being told that drapers' shops all over London and in some of the larger provincial towns are closing because of the slump in trade.  These trades have had some very fat years behind them, and their trouble is after all only a pecuniary one.  The throb of pity for assistants thus thrown out of work has less behind it than would appear.  For never for many years has there been such a glut of employment, both in the skilled and unskilled markets.  There is only one branch of employment where the demand is far in advance of the supply, and that is domestic service.  It seems as if one great effect of the Education Act has been to implant a distaste for service in the minds of pupils. They regard it as beneath them, they look upon the uniform of cap and apron as a badge of slavery, and above all they want "freedom" in the evenings.

Now let us make a comparison in the relative conditions of those ante-war callings for girls and those of domestic service.  A capable servant can and does command any wage from £20 to £26, or even £30 per annum.  Whereas one time £14 to £16 a year was considered fair wages for a "general" servant, and from £20 to £22 for a house or parlourmaid, now the least capable general is asking over £20.  In addition she is lodged, boarded, and washed for, she has no travelling expenses, and at least one afternoon a week, every other Sunday from after an early dinner—it used to be after tea the evenings commenced, but now evenings is a courtesy expression only.  She has a whole day a month off, and a fortnight's holiday in the summer. This means in reality a month's holiday in the year.  Now take a girl in, say, a tea shop.  There are her fares to and fro her place of employment, her board for Sundays, and lodgings for the week, her washing bill, her uniform to provide, and she is on her feet from morning till night.  I often wonder what use an evening is that commences after eight for a girl who has been on the go the whole day long.  All I should imagine she can do is to throw herself on her bed to rest.  Then the wages do not compare favourably, even without all the little etceteras she is bound to provide out of it.  Yet strange to say, girls prefer this latter life.  Of course, I must admit that there is a good deal of blame to be laid at some mistresses’ doors.  But there are a great number of good mistresses who find it impossible to get really capable good maids.

[I think that young women were perfectly capable of comparing life as a shop assistant with life as a domestic servant, and deciding that they preferred the former.   The conditions of work described in the tea shop are clearly very hard, but even so they sound preferable to domestic service.]    

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