Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Servant Problem - In Black and White


Right now, I am performing the second edit of the May 27 1911-December 18 1911 Nicholson Family Letters, which will likely be volume 1.

It's a trick, deciding how to annotate these letters so that the 'story of the Laurier Era' unfolds in understandable fashion.

But I'm having fun.

And thanks to the Census of 1901 and 1911 online, I'm getting a clearer picture of THIS SERVANT PROBLEM, which is key to the story of Canadian women in the era....

In 1911, as I have written, only 2 families in the Tighsolas neighbourhood have domestics, or servants, or maids. Live in ones anyway.

In the 1901 era, almost all families have a live in maid, including the Nicholsons, who have a 58 year old maid called Maggie Mclean (yet another relation) but this CAN'T POSSIBLY be the same Maggie Mclean who died in 1907, and left the Nicholsons out of her will. She was wealthy. (Still, I have to check... I'm sure I have her age on the WILL that I have.)

So by the 2nd letter only, I am annotating a great deal about servants. Readers might wonder why this is so important. But then Flora goes to Macdonald, which is a school founded to teach science to farmers and domestic science to women... so that the middle class girls can become better housewives and so that lower class girls can become better domestics.

The Powers that Be In Canada were all for poor girls getting work as domestics, which they described as honorable work, as opposed to, say, factory work. (The Montreal Council of Women did not agree. They thought women should also get technical training in the trades, which would give unmarried women independence.)

But really, they were trying to fix that irksome servant problem for themselves and their posh friends.