What is the gender of the maids

More about maids

We have selected the house on Rote Straße / corner of Jüdenstraße as an example of a manorial household from the 19th century. That it was not only "gentlemen" who lived in it becomes clear from the two entrances to the house. There is a wide front entrance and a small entrance for service personnel and suppliers. In these households, people from the upper class and the lower class met each other.

Function of the servants

Civil society in the 19th century was shaped by an ideology of separate and strictly defined gender roles. Since the Enlightenment, they have been considered "natural" and therefore unchangeable. The most important feature of these hierarchical gender roles was the division and comparison of two areas of life, public and private. On the one hand, the man was seen who pursued a job in public and was politically active, on the other hand, the woman who stayed in the private sphere, the family, and was supposed to create a resting place and a comfortable home for the man. This ideally typical "natural" role of women also included that she should not work physically, because women were seen as the "weaker" sex. This "ideal" was only valid for the upper class, the women from the lower classes mostly had to work hard physically for their livelihood. But also in the upper class households there was work that was done by maids. On the one hand, women of the upper class were considered too weak to work, on the other hand, of course, the servants were expected to do heavy physical work.

The living and working conditions of female servants could be very different. Depending on the size of the household, only one "girl for everything" was employed, or there were several household employees, e.g. a cook and a nanny. Maidservants were also a status symbol and a large number raised the social standing of their employers. The number and composition of the servants determined the daily work of the individual. Work usually started between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m. Activities in the mornings were the laborious cleaning of the apartment and especially the reception rooms (salons), in winter the stoves had to be cleaned and heated. Depending on the situation, it was the job of the cook or the "girl for everything" to shop and cook. In the afternoons the kitchen had to be cleaned and the stove and floor scrubbed. The metal pots and silverware were polished. Once a week all floors were polished and the carpets knocked out. Once a month the upholstered furniture and curtains had to be brushed and the windows cleaned. Every two to four weeks there was a "washing day", which usually extended over three days and was followed by about seven days of flattening. If there was no specially employed nanny, the personal care of the children was also one of the duties of the maid, i.e. washing them, dressing them, preparing their meals, supervising them. The whole day's work flow was characterized by constant interruptions

The maids came mainly from the villages around Göttingen and from the urban lower class. It was young women between the ages of 14 and 16 who came to the cities because of poverty and the lack of income for women in rural areas. They hoped for a social and material improvement in their situation. "Maid" was a transitional occupation; in 1907 around 80% of all maids were under 30 years of age, 36.7% were younger than 20 years.

Maidservants received a low annual wage in the form of money (between 150 and 200 Reichsmarks), and they received most of their pay as board and lodging. The accommodation was mostly very poor, only a few maids had their own room (usually unheated). Most of the time, the "Logis" consisted of a bed or a folding bed on the (also unheated) loft. The standard of living of female servants was comparable to that of unskilled workers. One big difference between factory workers and maids, however, was the form of the employment relationship. Servants were in an extremely high, personal relationship of dependency, which was characterized by submission to the will and the arbitrariness of "rule". There was neither a spatial nor a temporal retreat, no legal right to breaks or free time. Maids had a basic 24-hour work obligation, serving until late at night, special requests, receiving guests, and the like. included. Even agreements under customary law such as the fortnightly free Sunday afternoon could be broken at any time if necessary.

The framework of the employment relationship was determined by the "servants' ordinances", in which the obedience, loyalty and conscientiousness of duty of women, but not working hours, payment or the like, were specified. The servants' orders thus constructed the "social character" of the profession. They also stipulated that every change of position had to be reported to the police and stamped there. The legal and social security of maidservants was also poor, there was no old-age or loss of earnings insurance, and it was not until 1914 that they were included in health insurance.

The social distance between the "rulers" and the maid, which was often maintained or strengthened by harassment and control, was still decisive for everyday life. Housewives in particular secured their own social position by harassing and mistreating their employees. The servants of the house and other men living in the house were exposed to sexual exploitation and harassment, including rape. If a woman became pregnant, there was the possibility of an abortion. However, it will have been difficult for the maids, torn from their social contexts, to find a woman to help them. As soon as the pregnancy was discovered, she usually lost her job and with it her room and board. In Göttingen, 22.3% of all children were born out of wedlock in 1792; this number remained stable throughout the 19th century and even rose to 27% in 1905. This gave Göttingen one of the highest illegitimate birth rates in the German Empire. It can be assumed that there were very many maids among the illegitimate mothers. A law of 1793 said that students only had to pay alimony if the plaintiff could clearly prove a "seduction".

The question now arises as to how maids endured this work situation or how they defended themselves against it.
It is not known that many women have changed jobs. They developed strategies to defend themselves against the circumstances within their situation. These include secret breaks and dawdling while shopping, gossip about the privacy of their "masters" and frequent job changes. With that, the experience grew and unbearable work situations were ended. Stories of servants who made fun of their "rule" and their affected and artificial way of life show that the social hierarchy was not accepted. Many maidservants opposed the form of "self-sacrificing service for the rulership", but emphasized that it was paid work for them and nothing more.

Police regulations were issued several times in Göttingen, which required that every change of position of a maid be reported within 48 hours and that the service books had to be presented. There are repeated complaints that maids do not keep their service books properly, forged or lost the books. We conclude from these ordinances that female servants have repeatedly evaded the control of the police.

From the late 19th century onwards, efforts were made to unionize the servants that were unsuccessful. The working conditions, especially the personal dependency and the isolation, opposed these efforts.