In our first introductory post in this series we considered the scope of the book, The Duties of a Lady’s Maid (1826). Before we go any further in this series, where we are going to examine the advice given in that book, we ought perhaps clarify exactly what we mean by a Lady’s Maid and her Duties.
The Complete Servant by Samuel and Sarah Adams (1825) is a wonderful resource,freely available as a reprint by Southover Press and on Google Books . It records in great detail the role and duties of nearly every servant you coud possibly imagine existing in an early 19th century household(and many whom you could not imagine possibly existed!).
This book is one example of the genre of books designed to give advice not only to the servant but also to the growing number of the middling sort who needed to learn from books and not family experience exactly what their servants needed to be able to do to run the household smoothly (Mrs Cole in Emma should have taken note!) Of course some books were more helpful than others..John Armstrong’s book ,The Young Woman’s Guide to Happiness (circa 1815)
has this very brief summation of the duties of a lady’s maid:
No one ought to pretend to be properly qualified to fill the office of lady’s maid unless her education has been tolerably good; for being obliged to be near her lady, she is often required to read and to do some fine pieces of needlework. It is her duty to study her lady’s temper, to answer civilly and always to evince the most ready compliance with the orders she receives; she ought also on all occasions to defend her lady’s character to avoid repeating what may have been communicated in a moment of frankness and not to do anything that has the least appearance of countenancing an intrigue.
and that is all it and to say on the subject despite being a tome of over 600 pages!
Samuel and Sarah Adams’ book reflects the fact that they had both worked in service and intended their book to be helpful and very practical for the use of both servants and employer. Its fine detail left no one on either side of the divide-master or servant- in any doubt as to the extent and limits of their duties and responsibilities. This is what they had to say about the basic duties of the lady’s maid:
The business of a Lady’s Maid is extremely simple and but little varied. She is generally to be near the person of her lady and to be properly qualified to for her situation her education should be superior to that of the ordinary class of females, particularly in needlework and the useful and ornamental branches of female acquirements…
It will be her business to dress, re-dress, and undress her lady; and in this, she should learn to be particularly au fait and expeditious, ever studying, so far as it depends upon herself, to manifest good taste by suiting the ornaments of and decoration of her dress to the complexion habits age and general appearance of her person. Thus she will evince her own good sense, best serve her lady and gratify all those who are most interested in her welfare and happiness. She should alway be punctual in her attendance and assiduous in her attention.
Her first business, in the morning will be to see that the house-maid has made the fire and properly prepared her lady’s dressing room:- she then calls her mistress, informs her of the hour and having laid out all her clothes ,and carried her hot water to wash, she retires to her breakfast with the housekeeper and other principal servants. When her lady’s bell rings, she attends her in the dressing room- combs her hair for the morning, and waits on her till dressed; after which she folds and puts away her night-clothes, cleans her combs and brushes and adjusts her toilet table:- she then retires to her workroom to be ready if wanted and employes herself in making and altering dresses, millinery etc. About one o’clock the family generally take their lunch and the servants their dinner.-After this she is again summoned to attend her lady’s toilet whilst dressing to go abroad. When gone, she again adjusts her clothes and everything in the room and lays out and prepares the several articles that may be required for her dinner or evening dress and afterwards employs herself at needlework in her own room or in her other avocations to dress for dinner, perhaps about five when she attends her for that purpose; and having done this it may happen that no further attendance on her mistress’ person will be required till she retires to bed: meanwhile she employes herself at needlework as in the morning or else in the various occupations of getting up the fine linen quazes, muslins cambrics laces etc and washing silk stockings taking the spots or stains out of silks etc etc
It is for her to see that the housemaid or the chamber maid empties the slops, keep up the fires both in this and the bedroom (if wanted) and keeps the rooms in perfect order. Previous to her mistress retiring for the night she will have looked out her night clothes and aired them well; and she will not only now but at all times when she goes to dress carry up hot water for washing etc and when she is gone to bed she will carefully examine all her clothes and do all that is necessary to be done to them before she folds them away.
So these are the basic duties. I’m certain that the anonymous author of The Duties of a Lady’s Maid will add to this less than exhaustive list over the next few weeks…..
The question arises, exactly what sort of income would you need to employ one of these beings? In The Complete Servant we are given details of the household income that could afford to employ such a servant for the lady of the house. The income that could support the employment of a lady’s maid was quite high: it began at £2000 and rose to £3000 per annum. Mr Bennet is in that bracket-just-,but many female characters in Jane Austen’s works most certianly are not: the Dashwood ladies,the Bates’s ,Jane Fairfax and of course, Jane Austen herself.
Income per annum £200o-3000. Eight female and eight male servants. viz- A cook, Lady’s Maid, two House Maids, Nurse, Nursery Maid, Kitchen maid, Laundry maid, with a Butler,Valet, Coachman, two Grooms, a Footman, and two Gardeners.
Whereas the estimate given in another publication, Practical Domestic Ecomomy (1825)
tends to err towards the top end of that income bracket. It does not consider an income of £2000 per annum as sufficient to support the luxury of a lady’s maid. The first income it considers sufficient to support the luxury of adding a lady’s maid to the household is £3000 per annum:
Appropriate to an Income of £3000 per annum. The Family consisting of a Gentleman, his lady and Three Children; with an Establishment of Eight Make and Eight Female servants: in all Twenty -one persons-A Coach or Chariot, a Curricle and Six Horses…..
Eight Female servants viz:
Next in this series we shall be considering the conduct book elements of the publication and comparing them with the advice on conduct to be found in books written for and by male servants.