As to promotion in housework it seems to be almost unknown. Considering the many responsible positions waiting to be filled in private families, nothing could be more desirable than to instil into one’s employees the ambition to rise. An employee who has passed through all the different branches of domestic science, from the lowest to the highest in one family, must be far better fitted to occupy the highest position in that family than one who applies for the position with the training and experience gained only in other families where the mode of living may be very different. Since there is no chance of promotion and in consequence of receiving better pay, the domestic employee is often tempted to seek higher wages elsewhere, and thus the desire “to make a change,” so disastrous to the peace of mind of the housewife, is engendered in her employees.
In domestic labor the hours of work are longer than in any other form of employment, for they are unlimited. Moreover, instead of having one day out of seven as a day of rest, only half a day is granted beginning usually about three o’clock in the afternoon, or even later. And legal holidays bring no relief, for they are practically unknown to the household employee. The only way women engaged in housework in private families can obtain a real holiday is by being suddenly called away “to take care of a sick aunt.” There is an old saying containing certain words of wisdom about “all work and no play” that perhaps explains the dullness so often met with in domestic help.
The hardest thing to submit to, however, from the point of view of the woman employed in housework, is the lack of freedom outside of working hours. This prevents her from taking part in her former social life. She is not allowed to go out even for an hour or two every day to see her relatives and friends. To ask them to visit her in her employer’s kitchen is not a very agreeable alternative either to herself or her employer, and even then she is obliged to be on duty, for she must still wear her uniform and hold herself in readiness to answer the bell until the family for whom she works retires for the night.
With such restrictions it is not surprising that the majority of women feel that they are losing “caste” if they accept positions in private families. There are two more causes to which this feeling of the loss of caste may be attributed. One is the habit of calling household employees by their first name or by their surname without the prefix of “Miss”; the other is the custom of making them eat in their employer’s kitchen. These are minor details, perhaps, but nevertheless they count for much in the lives of women who earn their own living, and anything, however small, that tends to raise one’s self respect, is worthy of consideration. Perhaps, too, while the word “servant” (a noble word enough in its history and its moral connotation) carries with it a stigma, a sense of degradation, among the working women, it should be avoided.