Montreal Daily Star, 23 November 1912, page 18
The New Housekeeping Problem of the Paid Domestic Worker
By Marjory MacMurchy
(Copyright Canadian Writers Limited) From the girls’ point of view, what is unsatisfactory with domestic work as an occupation? Women employers very often want to know why girls will not go in for domestic work. By some women employers it is regarded as a misdemeanor on the part of young women that they do not go in for domestic work, and prefer, for instance, to work in shops and factories. Now why do girls not go into domestic work? The girls answer is that she prefers to work with fixed hours. In factories and shops she goes to work, returns from work and then her work is over. Is it true there are many disadvantages in factory and shop work as compared with domestic work, but to the girl the fixed hours outweighs them. If hours were fixed, would girls go into domestic service? The writer believes they would, much more largely than they do now. On two occasions a university professor as he relayed recently at a conference on social work, wrote out an advertisement for domestic help. He had heard that it was almost impossible to get a maid in Canada. He believed that he knew why. He felt safe that it was not a question of wages. His advertisement offered good wages, no work in the evenings, Saturday afternoon off, at three o’clock and Sundays off at the same hour. His advertisement brought eight applicants the same evening that it appeared in the press, and more the next morning when the position had been filled. In this household the maid has her own part of the house which is here. When her hour for going off duty comes, she may remain or go out, but she is not called on for any service. She may receive her friends. This household is never without a satisfactory maid.
The factory of the home.
Canadian women who employ domestic help, is there anything unreasonable about this solution? Consider it well. A girl who works in a factory the every evening after half past five or six o’clock, as a matter of course; Saturday afternoon, and all day Sunday. If we ourselves had the choice between factory work with the hours specified going off to work, and domestic work, which begins, say at half past seven and ends at eight , or later, or a little earlier, one afternoon off a week, beginning at two or three, which occupation would you prefer? It is not difficult to understand the choice of girls even if there are other advantages to domestic work. The woman employer replies that her maid has from two to three hours off every afternoon that she practically has nothing to do after washing the lunch dishes until she begins to get dinner ready. What exactly does this mean? The girl goes upstairs to dress, comes down again in an hour or so and sits in the kitchen or in rare cases in a sitting room off her own. She attends to the door bell and to the telephone. She is on call. No girl considers this the same as being able to do what she wants to do, to come or go as she likes. If the girl went out ever afternoon for two or three hours and her employer stayed in and answered the door and the telephone, would the woman employer consider that she had nothing to do? The responsibility of a house counts for something. To be alert for a call is being on duty. As a rule the woman employer says, “My maid has a great deal of time off. She goes out every evening one afternoon a week and every Sunday. What do girls want. She says this in a tone of indignation, almost invariably. Why the indignation? After all, why shouldn’t the girl go out every evening? What less time could any worker who is paid wages have than one afternoon a week, and part of every Sunday? If this study in sociology of the domestic worker and her woman employer is to be any use, it must be keen. Why is the woman employer indignant about the situation? The situation is unsatisfactory. Yes, but not because the domestic worker has too many privileges. Wages are too high. The worker is often untrained. Frankly and honestly, is it any wonder that the girl wants fixed hours to go off duty? Has the woman employer any cause to be indignant because the girl goes out every evening? If she stays in, she should be off duty. Certainly she should. After all, if a girl or a woman employer, does not go out in the daytime, should she not go out for the sake of her health and fresh air, in the evening?
The girl who leaves domestic service, or the girl who will not go into it, seldom gives a reason the social disability of the occupation. But social disability as a reason against domestic work is seldom out of her mind. The opinion of her friends weighs heavily with her, as it ought. How exactly does this opinion act? A woman specialist in manicuring, chiropody and so on, one day told a sad tale to a customer. Her mind was leaving her, her good maid, and for why? What had she not done for that girl that she could do? She paid her good wages, twenty dollars a month. She needed a companion in the house, and the girl was her companion. She talked to her just as she would to a companion. They had their meals together. Their rooms were just the same in furnishing and so on. But the girls young man would not have her stay as a servant, and so she was leaving. There you are, said the woman employer, and like as not the young man would not marry her after all. This last opinion was plainly induced by natural disappointment on the specialist’s part. But if the social disability of domestic service is felt in such a case, where the mistress and the girl have their meals in company, it must be felt in every case to some extent. The trained domestic worker of high standing holds her own position and knows that she is under practically very little, if any social disability. But this is the way that the majority of Canadians look at things. There can be no doubt of that other ojections that girls have to domestic work are the loneliness and lack of opportunity to meet or make friends. These can be remedied without much difficulty by the woman employer who is in earnest in solving the domestic problem.
Objections which have a sharper (unintelligible) are that the work in Canadian households is often ill-arranged, that the woman employer does not know how long a given piece of work ought to take in the doing, that the woman employer herself does not know how the work ought to be done, and as a consequence is unreasonable. Passing over these for the moment, we come to the strongest statement of the case of the domestic worker, except her case for fixed hours. The girl saves she would prefer more of a business arrangement and less of a feudal arrangement. Feudal is a word put into the girls mouth by the writer. What the girl sometimes says is: I am as good as she is!, meaning her employer. What the woman employer sometimes says is” what are the girls coming to? They want to be as good as their mistress. If a girl goes into a shop down town as a saleswoman, questions of this kind do not arise. They have nor proper relation to business, or to work of any kind. They must be got rid of in domestic work. The girl may be better than her mistress. The mistress may be better than her maid. It has nothing to do with their relation as worker and employer which depends on the honest carrying out of a business arrangement.