" Help Wanted, Female Not Afraid To Work ", A Girl's Gotta Eat

JPK Huson 1863

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#1
servant les mag 1864 jan.jpg

In this wildly romanticized 1863 illustration from one of Frank Leslie's magazines, a ' Lady ' is the center of attention, surrounded by luxury, pampered by her maids. Given a predilection towards peddling this kind of ideal 140 years ago, little wonder we're still at it, romanticizing the era in 2018. But what about those ( also idealized ) maids? Five dollars a month well, a girl has to eat.

There was a kind of class war. If you lived in 1863, you were more likely to be one of these maids, however improbably depicted than enjoy the implied wealth. Interestingly, hired help here are white women, black, much less enslaved women tend to not make an appearance in idyllic, class conscience scenes. Little odd.

Caption here is comprehensive. While Godey's, Demorest's, Leslie publication and novelettes relied heavily on the whole ' Everyone is a Princess ' ideal, Harpers Weekly scoffed from a vantage point in the real world.
servant perfect cartoon.JPG


Not an outrageous cartoon given what women ( and girls ) faced.

This job sounds charming........
servant ad not afraid to work.JPG


Our enslaved population was a whole, 'nother story. While an entire raged over their future, they just, plain seem invisible, a whole, ' nother thread.

Laments on the vast gulf between rich and poor were out there, making this acceptance of some ideal where the wealthy woman is queen of her socially demarcated world all the more baffling. Mrs Kelly, as a war time example wasn't a servant, but working class and a soldier's wife when she died of starvation, her husband's pay held up for months. A huge scandal erupted bringing to light money available to and squandered by already wealthy businessmen like government contractor George Morgan. Harper's Weekly again covered the tragic inequality.

soldier wife dead mrs kelly1.jpg
soldier wife dead mrs kelly2.jpg


servant Vermont_Phoenix_Fri__Dec_2__1864_d.jpg

Just a small section from an article in a Vermont paper, 1862, taking some pretty strong swipes at how decorative wealthy women had become. It's not an altogether wonderful article since the author is firmly of the opinion housekeeping and housekeeping only is a female's vocation- but his objection to class distinction is noisy.

servant mag cartn.jpg

And.... Harper's Weekly Newspaper again, using a little snark to make their point.

Class/ wealth and how it separated us wasn't new. Heck, we're still at it. What's wonderful is this taking a stand over the concept anyone is, or should be on some different footing based on wealth. It was America, with an entire war on the line over what it meant to be an American. That equal thing- you can't buy it, we just all are.
 

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#2
It's easy to romanticize the era sometimes, but it wasn't just ball gowns and hoop skirts. Many women were lucky to have a nice dress that wasn't dirty. There were more "Scarlett at Tara" than "Scarlett at Twelve Oaks," in other words.

Same as today. For every rich girl who can spend $1k on a pair of heels, just because she feels like it, there's millions of us who are lucky if we can afford a $100 pair of department store heels to go with an old dress we're wearing to our cousin's wedding.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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It's easy to romanticize the era sometimes, but it wasn't just ball gowns and hoop skirts. Many women were lucky to have a nice dress that wasn't dirty. There were more "Scarlett at Tara" than "Scarlett at Twelve Oaks," in other words.

Same as today. For every rich girl who can spend $1k on a pair of heels, just because she feels like it, there's millions of us who are lucky if we can afford a $100 pair of department store heels to go with an old dress we're wearing to our cousin's wedding.
Yes, and it's just crazy, the fever pitch it all reached. You know. Those price tags you'd swear someone just made up out of thin air, or maybe you read it incorrectly and have to take a second look! We used one outdoors kind of brand for decades. Good, can't beat it to death clothing and shoes. Over time it became a symbol of, if not wealth then status. HOLY heck. My scots genes got hives, the prices?

It seems to me you're following a trend, not that it's not frustrating for you. Consignment shops, Goodwill and sometimes Ebay are meccas for your generation. It's a little fun, because where do all those expensive shoes end up after being worn once? When my son was doing that thing teenagers do, of growing by the day, began haunting those places. Had a blast- not that boys notice what they wear. Same t-shirt which almost killed me, seeing a 60 buck price tag in the store, for 7. Kid was clothed for years, looking like he just walked out of the mall.

One wonderful aspect for our ancestors was they sewed- and saved. We still have pieces of dresses someone picked apart, to use on another. Little tough to pull off these days, I know. It's another reason to love old quilts- when something was worn to shreds, you made use of any good fabric left, cutting them into pieces for something warm and lovely.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#5
And this right here is why I'm portraying a girl from a split family who is not well off. It was hard back then...and it was hard before...and it's hard now. Some things don't change. :smile:

One thing I love about this forum is how normal - meaning live in the real world, so many are. Reenactors are awfully valuable IMO because you ' make do ', finding creative ways to come up with dresses, etc. It's really exactly what normal people did 150 years ago. Horrible sewing skills here, know little of reenacting so never comment but it's absorbing reading those threads. AND it occurred to me, browsing one, there so much sharing. It's reassuring. We may have lost our old neighborhoods and communities but find ways to connect like that, anyway.
 
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#6
Going by my character story, early war she's still affluent so has plenty of dresses, ballgowns, etc. Mid war, she's still trying to hold onto that, even after her home is gone and she's moved in with family. By late 1864, after the loss of two homes at the hands of the Yankees, her male relatives all off to war, her father and older brother having died, and her younger brother missing(in a Yankee prison), she's gone from affluent Virginia belle to poor, ragged, and barefoot(depending on event rules :x3:) refugee, with nothing but the ragged dress on her back, trying to get to the only remaining family she has, then having to rough it on a farm when she finally gets there. It'll be an interesting contrast how I'll be dressed depending on event. I figure that's a realistic experience, that affords me the ability to enjoy portraying both ends of the economic spectrum.:wink:

@JPK Huson 1863 I love thrift stores! Unfortunately I sometimes have to resort to other means for shoes, size 10 can be harder to find sometimes... most of my current lot are from the evil Walmart. :devilish:
 

grace

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#7
@JPK Huson 1863, thank you! My first sheer cotton dress was made out of an Egyptian cotton bedsheet...*giggles and giggles. Solid color, but oh, so pretty. I'm going to wear that despite some little farbi-isms about it because it's so nice and cool...blue...and cheap!

My other three dresses were given to me and need making over. The wool was moth eaten, so it will be a bonnet (TBD) and is a light shawl. The striped cotton will be another "best" dress after my blue, and the green pattern is heavy enough for a working dress. And I'm making all my underthings...thank heaven for the gift of boots, hoops and a corset (doesn't fit great, but good enough) as I've said before!

I too have a lot of trouble finding decent things to wear. I have a very conservative style (think skirts, blouses, flats in dark colors) and it's just not doable to buy new things. Goodwill it is...and things that may not fit quite right. Yay for the trend to call everything a "personal style". :smile:
 

Belle Montgomery

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#9
Going by my character story, early war she's still affluent so has plenty of dresses, ballgowns, etc. Mid war, she's still trying to hold onto that, even after her home is gone and she's moved in with family. By late 1864, after the loss of two homes at the hands of the Yankees, her male relatives all off to war, her father and older brother having died, and her younger brother missing(in a Yankee prison), she's gone from affluent Virginia belle to poor, ragged, and barefoot(depending on event rules :x3:) refugee, with nothing but the ragged dress on her back, trying to get to the only remaining family she has, then having to rough it on a farm when she finally gets there. It'll be an interesting contrast how I'll be dressed depending on event. I figure that's a realistic experience, that affords me the ability to enjoy portraying both ends of the economic spectrum.:wink:

@JPK Huson 1863 I love thrift stores! Unfortunately I sometimes have to resort to other means for shoes, size 10 can be harder to find sometimes... most of my current lot are from the evil Walmart. :devilish:
Never fear @Yankee Brooke ...you are as determined as Scarlet to turn things around but try not to lie, steal, cheat or kill :devilish:
 
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#12
Never fear @Yankee Brooke ...you are as determined as Scarlet to turn things around but try not to lie, steal, cheat or kill :devilish:
Now, I can't promise anything. Never underestimate a woman who is desperate and backed into a corner! Especially not a southerner. I will however try not to steal, cheat, or kill but there may be a fair bit of lying though....

Perhaps I will end up one of those poor, underpaid, and underappreciated maids @JPK Huson 1863 talks about in the original post. Imagine going from being a lawyers daughter, and member of a wealthy planter family, having anything and everything you could possibly want, to working your fingers to the bone for less $5 per month, living in a shack, lucky if you have a dress that isn't a rag, a pair of shoes, and something to eat once in a while....
 

Belle Montgomery

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#13
Now, I can't promise anything. Never underestimate a woman who is desperate and backed into a corner! Especially not a southerner. I will however try not to steal, cheat, or kill but there may be a fair bit of lying though....

Perhaps I will end up one of those poor, underpaid, and underappreciated maids @JPK Huson 1863 talks about in the original post. Imagine going from being a lawyers daughter, and member of a wealthy planter family, having anything and everything you could possibly want, to working your fingers to the bone for less $5 per month, living in a shack, lucky if you have a dress that isn't a rag, a pair of shoes, and something to eat once in a while....
OK so you're more like Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain trying to swap her deceased father's silver watch for a small hunk of pork...now you do just like her and DON'T you dare succumb to those lustful Home Guards (or any Yankees for that matter) just to put something in your belly Miss Brooke! :nah disagree: Better off being a "servant" and have pride knowing that your womanly virtues are intact!
 
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OK so you're more like Ada Monroe in Cold Mountain trying to swap her deceased father's silver watch for a small hunk of pork...now you do just like her and DON'T you dare succumb to those lustful Home Guards (or any Yankees for that matter) just to put something in your belly Miss Brooke! :nah disagree: Better off being a "servant" and have pride knowing that your womanly virtues are intact!
Something like that yes. Though I do have a younger sister to take care of, since her beau is off to war as well and not there to take care of her. I may need to resort to anything to make sure we survive until he returns!:eek: I also meet a dashing Confederate Lt. at winter camp near Fredericksburg, but sadly he leaves before anything can come of it besides becoming pen pals.
 

Belle Montgomery

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#15
Something like that yes. Though I do have a younger sister to take care of, since her beau is off to war as well and not there to take care of her. I may need to resort to anything to make sure we survive until he returns!:eek: I also meet a dashing Confederate Lt. at winter camp near Fredericksburg, but sadly he leaves before anything can come of it besides becoming pen pals.
Did you give him your wet plate image to take with him to keep in his breast pocket by his heart to remember you by?
 
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Did you give him your wet plate image to take with him to keep in his breast pocket by his heart to remember you by?
And maybe a lock of hair!?!? :wink:
Of course I did, I don't want him off thinking of other girls! Also, maybe there was a little more than "let's be pen pals" before he left. :wink: Perhaps some courting and hugging and maybe a bit of kissing. He won't be of much help if he comes back, I'm afraid his family's Georgia plantation's days are numbered. :eek: We're all homeless now! :cry: (Luckily my family member's farm is in Georgia is located out of the way of Sherman's march, so it'll be fine.)
 
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#19
Just another thought; how often were the paid servants mistreated? It had to be quite a lot...

And think of everything they had to do! It must have been an endless cycle.

*is very glad that she is a farmer's girl and NOT a city girl...
Considering the desperation it must have required to end up as a paid servant, I don't imagine it was always good. I imagine many liberties were taken, knowing that your wonderful servant has little choice but to grin and bear it. A lot like today, it's hard to leave a job, if you want to pay bills. My father says he used to leave jobs all the time, and would have another, often better one, lined up within a week or two. Now? Forget it, it takes months to find a job, and the longer you've been unemployed, the more desperate you become, and they know it, so will offer you peanuts since they know you likely have to take it.
 

Bruce Vail

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#20
Just another thought; how often were the paid servants mistreated? It had to be quite a lot...

And think of everything they had to do! It must have been an endless cycle.

*is very glad that she is a farmer's girl and NOT a city girl...
It was interesting in my family research to find from the census records that the Vails of North Salem had a live-in servant -- an Irish girl -- in the 1850s. No other info. I wonder what life must have been like for her...
 



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