Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Downton Abbey and the Canadian Servant Problem


A beautiful advert for Libby's pineapple from the Canadian Home Journal 1911, anticipating the Art Deco style

More perspective on the 1910 era: I don't really need it.

I've already spent 8 years researching background to the Nicholson Family letters - and have three books to show for it, one of them, Threshold Girl, posted on Amazon.com in the Kindle Store.

Threshold Girl is about 18 year old Flora Nicholson's year at Macdonald College in Ste. Anne de Bellevue. That school was founded to teach agricultural science to farmers and 'the science of home-making' to young women. Young women destined to be married would be better homemakers, it was believed, and poorer women, destined to be wage-slaves, would become more dignified and capable servants.

Flora attended teaching school at Macdonald, which was part of McGill. Macdonald College only reluctantly absorbed the Normal School, as teaching college was called.

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a 'new' magazine, the Canadian Home Journal lately posted on Archive.org.

The Canadian Home Journal was a Toronto based magazine, the forerunner to Chatelaine, but -as the title suggests- it was very much like the American Ladies' Home Journal, what with all the advertising, home-making advice, and only a token amount of fashion articles.

All the same advertisers graced its pages, Heinz, Old Dutch, Magic Baking Powder. The usual suspects. The brands that would become household names in the 20th century, all because they advertised so prominently in the Ladies' Home Journal.

But this Canadian magazine also had some 'thoughtful essays'  a la Delineator and some reasonable editorials. The Ladies' Home Journal's editorials of the era were quite strident and conservative, opposing motion pictures and woman suffrage.


From what I can see,  the Canadian Home Journal avoided the issue of woman suffrage but I did find one article on the Servant Problem, which is a theme of Threshold Girl. (Edith Nicholson cut out a clipping about the Servant Problem.)


 It was a one page article as that magazine kept their articles to one page.They hadn't figured out that it was necessary to spread out articles so that readers were forced to see more ads!

Now, when Downton Abbey first was aired in the US in 2010, a review in Salon.com  asked why Americans were still so obsessed with the class system, because it no longer existed.  Ha! I thought. Of course it does.

Read the article above and below from 1911 and see what you think!

Now, if I recall, in the very first episode of Downton Abbey the Titanic sinks and Hugh Bonneville's character laments the death of the poorer passengers. "Poor people, heading out for a better life." The fact is: these young Britons were likely heading out to be servants to the middle class, who preferred British help (or Swedish)over any other. The 1911 Canadian census shows this clearly.


Here's a bit of the article:

To give a whole page of my ideas on the servant question is something I promised, and there-fore shall fulfill, although it seems to be a subject worn threadbare, one that has always been, and always will exist, as broad as the world, that cannot be explained, and is apparently unsolvable. It has been presented to us from every standpoint, and has been reasoned and viewed from every possible position. Each phrase of the question has received its quota of attention; it has been scoffed at, wrangled over, and debated upon, until there would seem to be nothing more to say, and when all is aid and written, it remains at the starting point.

We cannot get past the fact domestic service is so objectionable that girls will enter any other employment in preference, and in consequence, are growing less in numbers; that they are asking more money for less service and demanding greater privileges continually. Also that housekeepers are finding it more and more difficult to secure and retain the services of a maid, that there is a lack of interest in their work, and an independence of spirit among them that his unendurable. That is what I understand the so-called servant problem to embody.



Canadian Life 1910, idealized.

Ready-made clothing factories were giving poor women another work option other than 'service.' And the Canadian Government reacted to these changing times with many cockeyed (see backward- looking) proposals trying to make sure everyone remained "in their proper place." There's a lot to be learned today from what was going on this 1910 era in Canada.