Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Domestic Problem, Part II

(Please note that the labors listed below are the servant's common daily tasks and do not include chores that are performed on specific days of the week such as Monday washing, Tuesday ironing, etc.)

"Certain regular duties are practically the same each day, no matter what the other work may be. Early rising should be insisted upon. Six o'clock is none too early for a maid to be up in a house where breakfast is at seven-thirty or eight o'clock. By half after six the maid should be dressed and down-stairs. If the care of the furnace falls upon her, her first duty in winter is to open the draughts of the furnace and put on a little coal. While this is kindling she can go back to her work up-stairs. The kitchen fire must be lighted, the kettle filled freshly and set to boil, the cereal put over the fire, before the maid goes into the living-rooms to open the windows. While these rooms are airing she may brush out the front hall and sweep off the steps, unless there is a man engaged to take care of the outside work of the house and to look after the furnace. When there is a gas-stove, the maid's work is much simpler, and in that case she may open the windows and do the brushing-up before she puts the kettle to boil. When the furnace fire has come up, she may go down, put on more coal, and close the draughts.

In most families where but one maid is employed the mistress of the house dusts her drawing-room. When this is the rule, the maid has only to air the rooms, straighten the furniture that is out of place, and brush up any scraps or dust that need to be removed. If the floors or parts of them are bare, she should go over them with a damp cloth. Should the family be very small, consisting of but two or three persons, it is possible for the maid to do all the dusting. If this does not devolve upon her, there are other small duties she can perform at this time, such as filling and cleaning lamps. When there is a sitting-room, this, too, should be set in order.

Whatever else may be postponed until after breakfast, the dining-room must not be overlooked. It must be brushed up and thoroughly dusted. Few things are more de-appetizing than to sit down to the first meal of the day in a room which is still, so to speak, in curl-papers. If the servant is brisk about her work she can look after the drawing-room, halls, and dining-room, and set the table before she has to go back to the kitchen. In households where a heavy breakfast is served, or where the rooms are elaborately furnished, she may have to get up earlier or leave part of the dusting to be done later. But the dusting of the dining-room must never be omitted. The morning tasks may be lightened a little by setting the breakfast-table overnight, and when this is done a thin cover—a sheet of cheese-cloth is excellent—should be thrown over the table after it is set to protect the dishes and other table-furniture from dust.

The preparation of the breakfast is the maid's next duty. The extent of the work this involves varies, of course, in different households. In some homes the old-fashioned American breakfast of hot meat or fish, warm bread, and potatoes cooked in some form is still preserved. Other families have adopted a modification of the Continental breakfast, and find all they need for the morning meal in fruit, a cereal, rolls or toast, eggs or bacon, and coffee. The latter breakfast simplifies the work of the household, but it is not popular everywhere. Whatever the breakfast, it should be in readiness at the hour appointed, if the members of the family are on hand or not. It need not be served until it is ordered, but it should be entirely ready. 

When all the persons in a household can reconcile themselves to breakfasting together, it makes work easier and saves time. Should they find it impossible to partake of it in harmony as well as in unison, and each one eats alone, it renders the meal a more prolonged function. Under such circumstances, the food may be kept hot for the tardy ones and they may be granted the privilege of getting it for themselves from the kitchen when they arrive, instead of impeding progress by making the duties of the day yield to their convenience.

The fruit-course may be on the table when the family is summoned. At breakfast they usually do for themselves such waiting as passing plates, cups and saucers, and the like. A plate and finger-bowl may be in front of each person, and the porridge-bowl and saucer may be close by also, if it is desirable to simplify the service. Or these dishes may be on the serving-table or sideboard, and the maid may put them on the table with the cereal when she comes in to take out the fruit-plates. After the cereal-dishes have been removed and the rest of the breakfast served, the maid may be excused to go about her other work. The time of her own breakfast may be settled by the mistress and herself. The sensible course is for the maid to eat something and take a cup of tea or coffee in the intervals of her early work, but there are few servants who can be persuaded to do this. If the maid prefers she can take her breakfast while the family is eating, but most maids and mistresses seem to find it more convenient to dispose of the bedroom work as early as possible.

When this is the case the maid should go to the chambers as soon as the substantial part of the breakfast is on the table. The occupants of the beds should have stripped these on rising and opened the windows on leaving the rooms. If this has been done the bedclothing has had a chance to air. In order that such airing may be adequately done, the covers should be taken from the bed and spread across a couple of chairs placed back to back. The covers must not drag on the floor. The mattresses should be beaten and turned back over the foot of the bed that the air may reach them from both sides. To freshen them thoroughly, they should be left thus, the windows open, for from fifteen minutes to half an hour. While this is going on the rooms may be brushed or gone over with a carpet-sweeper—not thoroughly swept: this comes at another time. The beds may now be made and the dusting done.

In a small family it is taken for granted that the maid should do this work, but in a household of more than two or three it is customary for the women of the family to look after the beds. In that case the maid need only brush up the rooms, strip the beds, and empty soiled water, leaving the rest of the up-stairs work undone while she goes back to the kitchen. She may now take her own breakfast if she has not had it earlier, and clear the table. After every meal the dishes should be removed from the table as soon as possible. They should be carried into the kitchen or the butler's pantry, the cloth brushed—never shaken—and folded, and the dining-room put in order, the crumbs brushed from about the table, the chairs put in their places, the room darkened, if it is warm weather. If the mistress of the house dusts the chambers, the maid may now wash the dishes; if not, she may scrape them and leave them to soak in warm water while she goes back to her dusting and cleans and arranges the bath-room.

To clean the bath-room properly, there should always be a bottle of household ammonia at hand, one of forty per cent. solution of formaldehyde or other good disinfectant, a couple of cloths, a long-handled brush, and a scrubbing-brush. It is also well to have a can of concentrated lye or one of the preparations like it which will cut accumulations in waste-pipes. The hand-basin, tub, and closet should be scoured out each morning, the drain-pipes flushed twice a week with water to which has been added formaldehyde or the lye. The former is admirable for removing stains and deposits, but if these are very obstinate the formaldehyde must be left in the basin overnight. The long-handled brush enables the maid to clean the closet basin satisfactorily. Ammonia on the cloth used in washing the tub and basin will remove greasy deposits. The nickel fittings and woodwork must be wiped off, the soap-dishes and tooth-brush racks washed. The vessels used in the bedrooms must be cleansed in the same manner, the water-pitchers rinsed out and filled fresh every day, and the slop-jars and commodes scalded daily.

The linen-closet should be in the charge of the mistress of the house, and the maid should have nothing to do with giving out fresh linen for the beds or towels for the bath-room.

When the bath-room work is finished, the maid may return to the kitchen, wash and put away the dishes, and get the kitchen and pantries in order. The maid who takes proper care of her china, glass, and silver will rinse her dishes thoroughly in one water and then wash them in hot suds, the glass first, then the silver, and then the china, drying each piece as it comes from the suds. The breakfast-dishes washed, the dish-towels should be rubbed out. Once a day they should be boiled.

This is the time when the mistress inspects the contents of the refrigerator and decides what shall be the meals for the day. Either before or after such inspection the maid must wipe off the shelves of the ice-box, and three times a week it must be scoured out with hot water and washing-soda.

The general work of the house—of which more later—is undertaken now, and after it comes the preparation of the mid-day luncheon. At this meal little waiting is required. The table is set as for breakfast. If the work is properly managed there should be no heavy tasks for the maid to accomplish in the afternoon, except on washing and ironing days. She may perhaps attend to some light work like the polishing of silver, but, if her duties are arranged as they should be and she is brisk in their performance, she ought to be able to have a little time to herself in the afternoon. The preparation of dinner is seldom undertaken until after four o'clock in houses where dinner is served at seven.

The maid is expected to discharge the work of a regular waitress at dinner, so far as serving the dishes, passing plates, and the like are concerned. She is not required to remain in the room, but to come when rung for. Her work of clearing away and washing dishes is practically the same after luncheon and dinner as after breakfast."

The Expert Maidservant, by Christine Terhune Herrick, 1904.


PepperReed said...

I'm tired just reading that!

Bunnykins said...

As much work as being a live-in maid was, it's still better than working on the family farm before the advent of electricity. My great aunt was crowing about having a pump put on the kitchen sink when I was little (table height), because it saved her having to fetch water from the wellhead which was out the back kitchen door, down a short flight of steps and across the driveway. Not bad in summer, but killer in winter. Her kitchen garden was about the size of the lot my small city house sits on, and her floor to ceiling basement shelves of preserves (always dusted and shiny clean) were a marvel. Hmm, fresh carrots from the garden in cream sauce, made with cream right from the cooler.