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domestic service

domestic service, work performed in a household by someone who is not a member of the family. It was performed by slaves in many early civilizations, e.g., in Greece and Rome. Under the feudal system the work was done by serfs. The guild system required indentured apprentices to perform household duties while learning a trade. With the disappearance of feudalism and guilds, servants were recruited from free wage earners. Domestic service came to be regarded as an unattractive occupation because of the long hours, low wages, poor living conditions, low social status, and dependence on the personal habits of the employer. In the colonies of North America, domestic service was performed by transported convicts, bond servants who sold themselves into service for stated periods to pay their passage, Native Americans, and black slaves. After the American Revolution indentured servants were largely replaced, except in the South, by free labor. Growing numbers of upper middle-class families in the late 19th and early 20th cent. increased the demand for domestic servants, which was largely met by immigrants. Immigration quotas established in 1921 cut down this supply, and the demand for servants was subsequently reduced by the use of labor-saving devices. As the growing number of working women has created an increased need for child-care workers, many families have turned to professionals for such services. The number of domestics has declined from a peak of 2.4 million in 1940 to 795,000 in 1997. In 1950 the old-age insurance system was expanded to include household employees who were regularly employed, and in the social security amendments of 1954 old-age and survivors' insurance were extended to domestic servants regardless of work regularity. In Great Britain domestic workers are covered by national health and unemployment insurance schemes.

See D. Katzman, Seven Days a Week (1981); L. Martin, The Servant Problem (1985); P. Palmer, Domesticity and Dirt (1989).

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"domestic service." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"domestic service." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/domestic-service

"domestic service." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/domestic-service

domestic service

domestic service refers to paid employment as servants in the households of others. The number of such servants depended upon the size of the household and its income. In all periods of history both men and women sought such employment. However, fewer men than women became servants after 1780, when a tax was imposed on all adult male indoor servants. Initially the tax was designed to encourage men into the armed forces or paid work in the expanding non-domestic labour market. Once established it made male domestic workers expensive, so that the typical domestic servant was female.

Domestic service was the most important type of employment for women until after the start of the First World War in 1914, when women took on the jobs of men who joined the services. Simultaneously, many households reduced the number of domestic servants because their incomes were reduced by wartime inflation.

In upper-class households there was often a hierarchy of servants ‘below stairs’, ranging from the butler to kitchen skivvies. Frequently these servants remained with the household for many years, some holding positions of intimacy and trust. Amongst the lower middle class only a ‘maid of all work’ was employed, who often endured very long hours and little prestige. Her lot was superior only to the ‘daily’ helping with the ‘rough work’.

After 1918 domestic service never regained its former importance in private households; since 1945, work similar to that of the domestic servant has taken place in public contexts, through employment as cleaners and caterers in hospitals, nursing homes, schools, and universities. The increase in women working outside the home in the early 21st cent. is revivifying domestic service, which is now additionally provided through entrepreneurial small businesses.

Ian John Ernest Keil

Bibliography

Horn, P. , The Rise and Fall of the Victorian Servant (1975);
Waterson, M. , The Servant's Hall (1980).

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"domestic service." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. 15 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"domestic service." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Encyclopedia.com. (December 15, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/domestic-service

"domestic service." The Oxford Companion to British History. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/history/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/domestic-service