Life of House Servants Years Ago

For those who could afford it, many family households had one or more house servants to do the daily chores. It offered many men and women an opportunity to make a living and sometimes even a place to live. This was more common in the 1800s and into the early 1900s.

The larger a home’s staff in numbers, the more prestigious it was for the family of the house. Status was wrapped up in the running of the daily household activities and this meant that the stiff class structure strictly maintained at all times was found in European nations and to a lesser degree in the U.S. Servants had a lot of rules which governed when they could speak, where they could walk, and how much time they spent on their daily tasks.

The house servants were usually very devoted to the family as if they were a member of the family. Many servants worked for a specific family or the descendants for decades.

There was a ranking of servants, with scullery (cleaning) maids and hall boys, the most junior positions inside the house, were never ever to speak to (or even be seen by) the family.

Senior positions were those of the butler and head housekeeper and did speak to family members. The butler was the only person who was to answer the main door. It showed visitors just exactly the status of the family who lived there.

Overall, servants were to be quiet and composed in all circumstances, to speak low, and to discuss matters of work either downstairs or in private away from house members. Servants were held to a stringent moral character and to do nothing which would ever bring shame or scandal to the house.

These values and behaviors for house servants continued into the 1930s but so much less so into the 1940s and beyond. Viewing Federal census records will show if there were one or two servants or more in a household, they would be like on the census. You might have had ancestors who did employ servants or maybe an ancestor who worked in a household.

Photo: Female house servant around 1900.

Related Blogs:

Indentured Servants


Colonial Servants

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