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Wednesday, September 5

Maids of All Work

On December 1, 1798, Jane Austen wrote her sister Cassandra:

We are very much disposed to like our new maid; she knows nothing of a dairy, to be sure, which, in our family, is rather against her, but she is to be taught it all. In short, we have felt the inconvenience of being without a maid so long, that we are determined to like her, and she will find it a hard matter to displease us.

In days of yore even the lowliest families that could afford it would hire a maid of all work, usually a young girl from an impoverished family. If you recall in Mansfield Park, Fanny Price's real mother and father employed such a maid. To go without one meant hauling one's own water, laying the fire, sweeping (which must have been endless), and accomplishing the myriad tasks needing to be done in an age that lacked electricity and internal plumbing.
Next to the scullery maid (who in a large household with many servants, was relegated to perform the meanest duties), the maid-of-all-work had one of the least desirable jobs in the servant hierarchy. Because she was the only servant or one of only a few, all the hard, backbreaking household tasks fell to her. Even Mrs. Beeton, whose expectations of servants was strict, commiserated with this maid's lot, saying: Her life is a solitary one, and in, some places, her work is never done. She is also subject to rougher treatment than either the house or kitchen-maid, especially in her earlier career.

Learn more about the maid of all work here:

A Day in the Life of a Maid of All Work

Maid of All Work: Her Tasks (Victorian Era)

Click here for my previous posts on servants

The Cock of Cotton Walk and Maid of All Work, 1820: A Satiric Verse

Illustrations from Pyne's Microcosm

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