The Victorian era in Britain was one of great dependency upon the women employed in domestic service. Domestic service was a very popular line of work for women in this period, in fact “about 40 percent of all women in Victorian Britain were employed…and a majority were domestic servants,” which showcases both the popularity and dependency upon domestic servant jobs. Many of the servants during this period were considered maids of all work, and it was this type of servant who ensured the efficient running and maintenance of many middle class households. This was because “the average middle class household did not usually have a valet, footman, or butler, but a cook, housemaid, and a maid of all work were essential.” Thus, revealing the reliance on a maid of all work to ensure that all duties of the household were completed.
As will be discussed, becoming a domestic servant in the nineteenth century witnessed a dramatic change in viewpoint from the previous century, as the role was no longer considered a calling from God . During this period, writers who produced household manuals to be used as a guidebook within a household, such as Isabella Beeton, also became a popular resource for servants lucky enough to have been employed to serve in a servants position within a household. These household manuals have helped to reveal that the job of being a maid of all work was a labour intensive job which was only made more complex by ensuring that her duties were completed in a way that was least disruptive to her employers, meaning she must be unobserved in her work.
According to Heycks’ text The People of the British Isles 1699-1870, “the demand for servants generated by the middle class, was a rapidly growing industry, the second largest occupational group and by far the largest for women.” Consequently, it is of no surprise that many households invested in manuals, such as Beeton’s Book of the Household. As they proved to be an invaluable reference book a servant could turn to in times of confusion. Writers of the Victorian era, such as Isabella Beeton, not only sought to offer guidance and instruction for the running of a household, but also to point out the importance of efficiency. What is also clear from Beeton’s writing is a feeling of empathy, which is expressed for roles within housekeeping, such as the maid of all work. Beeton highlights within the section of a maid of all work, that jobs such as this were ones deserving of sympathy, as the life of this maid was “a solitary one.” Therefore, the employment of women into the sphere of domestic service under the title ‘maid of all work,’ was evidently a job that not only took over a maid of all work’s life, but also subjected these maids to performing a laborious daily routine, essential to the running of a household, which was also inexplicitly expected to be completed in an unseen and discreet fashion.
Interestingly, the employment of servants in domestic service during the nineteenth...