Saturday, May 7, 2016

Etiquette and One's Servants

Nell Ashley, Writing from a Reform School, Tells What Maids Endure from Sons and Husbands of the Fashionable Women Who Employ Them

What Shall Be Done to the House Sheik?

No one seems able to tell us why is it that a girl who goes into domestic service is looked down upon by folks inside and outside the home, while the girl who takes a business position if regarded with respect. While homemakers are theorizing about the scarcity of help, Nell Ashley, a high-school girl who became a personal maid in a rich home in order to save enough money to take a business course, comes right out with the facts. 


The true story of her experiences, published in February Smart Set reveals that there is need of a course in etiquette to teach men members of wealthy households, that the maids employed by their wives and mothers, are not there to satisfy their flirtatious desires. Here are interesting extracts from this disillusioned girl’s expose: 

“My mother, who had been a chorus girl, died when I was five years old. My Aunt Millie adopted me. She, herself, was a domestic servant. I graduated from High School when I was sixteen. That summer my aunt got me a position as chambermaid in the palatial country home of a New York millionaire. 

“It was hard work. My mistress was one of those women who are always having trouble with her servants, and in addition to my own duties, I often had to act as personal maid, parlor maid and kitchen girl. But I didn’t mind hard work, I was buoyed up by the prospect of entering business school in the fall.

“Toward the end of my vacation, the oldest son arrived. He was a student at Yale. He was nothing to write home about; a jolly, good-natured boy, full of the devil. He liked to tease me because I blushed so easy and I tried to keep out of his way as much as possible. 

“One morning as I was making his bed, he returned unexpectedly to get something. Suddenly he seized me in his arms and said jokingly, ‘Come on now, let me see you blush. Goldilocks!

Just at that moment his mother appeared in the doorway. ‘What does this mean?’ she demanded angrily. ‘You disgraceful creature! Pack your trunk and leave this house immediately.’ Bewildered, dazed, overcome with embarrassment, I stood motionless. ‘Have you no shame?’ She hissed the words, venomously like an angry snake, or a vicious cat. The young man protested halfheartedly. It wasn’t her fault, Mother—really —

And it wasn’t. It was just as I have told you. But I have never been ready with a quick answer. I am stupid like that. And her sudden attack made me dumb. My tongue was paralyzed with fear. What do you mean, lying here when I tell you to get out?' she screamed. The charming, perfectly poised society leader was a raging cat. Her friends wouldn’t have known her. 

You ungrateful baggage! Wait until I tell your aunt about this. I will see that she commits you to an institution! “While I was packing, tears blinding my eyes, I heard a piece of paper being shoved under the door. It was a note from Mr. Harry, folded around a fifty dollar bill. Sorry, Goldilocks, I can’t make mother listen to reason. it read. In case you have nowhere to go, you can probably find a room at West 50th Street. Ask for Miss Brandon. She’s a friend of mine. Be sure and let me know your address anyhow.

“I didn't hesitate to take that fifty dollars—my wages were being paid to my aunt, and I didn't have a cent of my own. Had I had time to think the matter over, I might have acted differently. As it was, I was terrified at the prospect of being sent to a ‘home.’ I took a train for New York.’ 

Miss Ashley proceeds to relate how her victimization sent her to a reform school, when she was prepared for domestic service, which led to a fresh round of humiliation. — Madera Tribune, 1925


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