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Upstairs/Downstairs: Domestic Servants and Mistresses in 19th and 20th Century America - Primary Sources

Theme: An Industrious People: American Economic History
Topic:
Upstairs/Downstairs: Domestic Servants and Mistresses in 19th and 20th Century America
Date: February 2006

Primary Sources from Partner Collections | Photos, Objects, Architecture | Published Documents | Manuscripts |

Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Selections and annotations by SALEM in History staff


Primary Sources from Partner Collections

Photos, Objects and Architecture:




Ward House Kitchen, ca. 1684
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

John Ward (ca. 1653-1732) was a currier (leather finisher) purchased an acre of land on Prison Lane (now St. Peter’s Street) in 1684, and probably began building his home shortly thereafter.




Crowninshield-Bentley House, ca. 1727- "Hannah's" Kitchen
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

The Crowninshield-Bentley house was built for Captain John Crowninshield, and four generations of that family lived in the home until the 1830s.



Crowninshield-Bentley House - Kitchen
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

Gardner-Pingree Kitchen, ca. 1804-5
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

The Gardner kitchen featured the latest domestic technology in 1805. Water was pumped into the basement and up to the kitchen. A "Rumford Roaster" used steam heat for an oven (built into the left side of the hearth) that was faster and cleaner than traditional ovens.

 

Ropes Mansion Kitchen, ca. 1893
Salem, MA
Peabody Essex Museum

When the Ropes home was renovated in 1893-4, the kitchen featured many elements with the latest technology. Next to the coal stove, for example, a copper water tank holds hot water heated by a gas powered heating element. Interestingly, the family did not choose a gas stove; coal produces polluting ash and odor, and requires labor to maintain the fuel. Advertisements at the time promoted the ease and efficiency of new gas stoves (see the VULCAN ad. below, for example). However, many people were concerned about the safety of such stoves, and perhaps this is why the Ropes chose the older style cook stove.

 


Ropes Mansion Renovation, ca 1894
Salem, MA
Photograph
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

The Ropes Mansion waas originally built after 1727 and was acquired by Judge Nathaniel Ropes II in 1768. In 1894, the house was raised and moved back about 30 feet and set on a new foundation with a basement. Along with a half-store expansion to the rear of the building, facilities were updated to include central heat, plumbing, and electricity.

This home is uniquely documented; many receipts from building and repair work, and decorative arts purchases are held in the Phillips Library collection.

 

Mary Pickman Ropes (1843–1903), n.d.
Salem
Photograph
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

Mary and Eliza moved from Cincinnati in 1893 following the death of their brother, Nathaniel V, who bequethed the Ropes mansion to them. They, in turn, set up an endowment for the property and left it to the Essex Institue (Phillips Library, now part of the Peabody Essex Musuem). The Institute did not acquire the property at the time, but later accessed it in 1989. The building is currently open for tours seasonally.

 

Eliza Orne Ropes (1837–1907), n.d.
Salem
Photograph
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

Nathaniel Ropes V (1833-1893)
Cambridge?
Photograph
Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum

Nathaniel IV moved away from the North Shore to find his fortune in the west. He owned businesses in Cincinnati, but sent his son back to Cambridge to attend Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1855 (this is likely a graduation photo of Nathaniel Ropes V). While attending Harvard, Ropes lived with his aunt, Sarah Orne, in the the Ropes Mansion. Upon her death, he inherited the home and lived there until his death in 1893.

 

 

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Documents


Domestic Economy.  Brattleboro, VT, n.d.  (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Call # BR 640)

 “The true economy of housekeeping is simply the art of gathering up all the fragments so that nothing be lost.  Fragments of time as well as materials.”  – Mrs. Child

This statement is placed just under the title of the Domestic Economy broadside (printed sheet).  Columns of text offer advice for the frugal and practical use of household resources.  It was meant to be hung in a convenient location in the house (probably the kitchen) in order to function as a reminder and a handy reference. 

 

 

Carter, Susannah.  The Frugal Housewife.  Philadelphia: James Carey, 1796. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery: Box 18)

 

 

Roberts, Robert.  The House Servant’s Directory. Boston, Munroe and Francis, 1828. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum call # 647 / R64)  There is also a 1977 Facsimile edition by Charles A. Hammond  (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum call # 647 / R64 / 1977)

This reference offeres suggestions for the arrangement and performance of servants’ work and behavior, instructions for carrying and setting plates, cleaning, and planning parties.  

 

 

The Captain’s Lady Cookbook / Personal Journal: Circa Massachusetts 1837-1917 / edited by Barbara Dalia Jasmin. – Springfield, MA: The Captain’s Lady Collections, 1982. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery: Box 18)

Jasmin purchased a manuscript journal that included many recipes.  The combination provides a fuller view of how food and the exchange of recipes play an important role in the fabric of society.

 

Stone, Mrs. C.H.  The Problem Of Domestic Service.  St. Louis, MO: Nelson Printing Co., 1892. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery: Box 77)

Cover features lively imagery that incorporates a number of domestic objects that would be associated with servants’ chores.  Some of these are cleaning brushes, call bells, and a broom.

 

 

Up-to-Date Cook Book.  Salem, MA: The Thought & Work Club of Salem, 1897 (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery Box 81)

As the introduction suggests, this cookbook was produced largely as a fundraiser for the organization.  Sponsoring advertisers helped to fund the project.

The following ads from the publication are included here:

 

A.C. Titus & Co.: Many Dainty Dishes.  Copyright 1896 by Charles Wells Moulton. In: Up-to-Date Cook Book.  Salem, MA: The Thought & Work Club of Salem, 1897. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery Box 81)

“Many dainty dishes are spoiled by not having just exactly the right things to do with.  Can’t bake a custard in a melon mould, nor muffins in a cake tin.  In our Kitchen Ware Department, are just the things you want for plain or fancy cooking.  Nothing but the best of ware though; we won’t sell the other kind.  Costs a little more at the start, but it’s the cheapest in the long run and is the only kind that gives satisfaction."  – A.C. Titus & Co., 136-142 Washington St., Salem, Mass.

 

Kingsford’s Corn Starch of Oswego, NY, 1896. Pictured in: Up-to-Date Cook Book.  Salem, MA: The Thought & Work Club of Salem, 1897. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery Box 81)

Advertisers such as Kingsford's Corn Starch sponsored the Up-to-Date Cook Book.

 

Salem Gas Light Co.: Gas Ranges, 1896. Pictured in: Up-to-Date Cook Book.  Salem, MA: The Thought & Work Club of Salem, 1897. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery Box 81)

Advertisement for gas ranges for sale “at cost.”  The selling points include “no dust, dirt or bother, and “always ready.”  This would be an improvement over coal-burning stoves, which required someone to load coal regularly, and start the stove well in advance of cooking to bring the stove up to temperature.  (This ad. is located on the back cover of the publication.)

 

White Yorkshire Pedigree Pigs for Sale. Pictured in: Pictured in: Up-to-Date Cook Book.  Salem, MA: The Thought & Work Club of Salem, 1897. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Cookery Box 81)

The seller also sells dogs in Salem, MA.

 

 

Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

This Boston-published magazine offers recipes, poetry, humor, articles, and advice related to culinary themes.  Included from this issue are the following articles and advertisements:

 

York Range For Winter Cooking. Published in: Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

The Abendroth Bros. company from New York offers a range of gas heating and cooking products.  Since this is a Christmas issue, the advertisement suggests that “the Best Gift of the Nineteenth Century to the Twentieth is the YORK.”  It also borrows a quote from Shakespeare: “Now is the winter of our discontent, Made glorious summer by this... YORK.”  The page design cleverly incorporates gas pipes as a border that feeds up to the Brand name and lit “gas” illustration at the top of the page.

 

When Fatigued Drink Van Houten’s Cocoa.  Copyright 1900 by Lyman D. Morse Advertising Agency. Published in: Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

The text reads: 

MISTRESS:  I feel so tired, Mary.  What have you brought?

MAID: A cup of tea, Madam, I thought it would refresh you.

MISTRESS:  The Doctor says I am not to take tea, Mary, it is not good for the nerves, so take it away again.  Bring me a cup of Van Houten’s Cocoa which is recommended as soothing to the nerves, and refreshing.  I think it a delicious beverage and it smells so enticing.  And, Mary, see that your stock of Van Houten’s Cocoa does not run out.

MAID: Yes M’am. (Exit)

Sold at all grocery stores.  Order it next time.

This advertisement suggests an idyllic relationship between mistress and maid, where the servant anticipates the needs of her mistress, and is obedient to her instructions.  The artwork suggests an elegant, fashionable interior with two attractive women.  Because their features are similar and generic in appearance, they may stand in for “any women.”  The situation describing a mistress who is suffering from fatigue and treated by a doctor for “nerves” is a common (and complex) issue during America's Gilded Age.

 

Over the 'Walnuts and the Wine' - The Real Reason. (download pdf text) Published in: Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

This anecdote reads as follows:

MRS. HAUSKEEP:  Yes, my new girl formerly worked for Mrs. DeStyle.  She claims she left there of her own accord, but I think she was discharged.

MRS. KAUL: What makes you think so?

MRS. HAUSKEEP:  I judge so from certain thins she’s let fall since she’s been here. 

MRS. KAUL: What were they?

MRS. HAUSKEEP: Dishes

 

 

"In the Kitchen" (download pdf text) Published in: Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

The image at the top of the page depicts (African American?) servants, and the page offers tips on good housekeeping in the kitchen. 

 

 

“A Good Servant”(download pdf text) Published in: Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

This suggestion was sent in by A.B. Claxton of Washington, D.C.  It describes a gas stove as a “good servant,” seemingly equating its service to the household with that of domestic servants.  It was sent in as a competition entry on the subject, “Advantages to the Housewife and the Family of cooking by Gas.”

 

The modern “Venus of the kitchen” must have the modern “VULCAN” Published in: Culinary Topics. Dec. 1900.  Ropes Mansion Collection, Peabody Essex Museum.

The advertisement features a beautiful young “new woman” dressed in white near a stylish gas range stove.  Her pristine garments reinforce the notion of her as a goddess, and also suggests the cleanliness of the stove.  “New women” were active and self-confident; the best-known example is the “Gibson Girl” created by Charles Gibson. 

 

 

School of Housekeeping.  Boston: The Women’s Educational & Industrial Union, 1900 – 1902. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. Box 74)

This school offers two different programs: one for housewives and one for “professionals.”  This pamphlet outlines the courses, fees, and describes each class.

 

 

Fifield, E.F. The House Efficient.  Boston: T. Todd, 1903. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.  Call # E / F469 / 1903)

Fifield selects the comparison of the home to a factory that has a “woman who should regard herself as the manager of this factory, the superintendent of its work...”  Her pamphlet provides information on how to make this domestic factory as efficient as possible.

 

 

Crandell, John Chester, C.P.A. and Mercy Frye Crandell.  A Manual Of Household Accounts.  Boston: Whitcomb & Barrows, 1917.  (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum  Call # E / C890 / 1917)

The Crandell’s offer this manual for families to manage their domestic finances.  They “advocate an equal family partnership between husband and wife,” and suggest that this is they only way to keep accounts accurately and successfully. Not only is the housewife considered an equal in this endeavor, she is also learning professional methods of accounting as part of her domestic work. The authors state that their book offers methods “available for the average family or individual  [that] has heretofore been possible only for the trained accountant.”

 

 

Farmer, Fannie.  The Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1923 (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Box 35)

Fannie Farmer is still a well-known name for cookbooks today.  Her first Boston Cooking School Cook Book was published in 1896 (available on-line).  Her books applied science to the skill of cooking, whether for professional cooks or housewives.  Professional cooking schools for chefs first opened in England during the late eighteenth century.  During the nineteenth century, U.S. cooking schools provided classes to train servants and to “professionalize” domestic work for housewives.  The Boston Cooking School was one of the most influential of the period.

To view the 1896 version: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/bostoncookingschool/bost.html

The book includes advertisements, including the following:

 

Choice House Furnishings (B.F. Macy of Boston). Published in: Fannie Farmer, The Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1923. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Box 35)

This advertisement for kitchen tools depicts many equipment items in the page border.

There is a Crawford Range for your kitchen (Walker & Pratt Mfg. Co., Boston). Published in Fannie Farmer,  The Boston Cooking School Cook Book 1923. (Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum Box 35)

Crawford offers a range of technology by the 1920s.  One range featured runs on coal and gas (the older technologies at the time, but still in use, especially in rural or less wealthy homes), and the other range uses the most recent technology, electricity, which was available in major cities in the at the turn of the nineteenth to twentieth century.

 

Bradley, Alice. The Wartime Cook Book.  NY: The World Publishing Co., 1943.
(Peabody Essex Museum Cookery: Box 15)

Bradley offers suggestions for the American housewife to provide a balanced diet for her family during wartime rationing.

 

State Normal School at Framingham, Mass. Catalogue and Circular for 1900-1901. Boston: Wright & Potter Printing Co., 1900. Salem State College Archives.

Framingham State College was founded as Framingham Normal School in 1839 by Horace Mann. In 1899, the Boston School of Household Arts relocated and became the Department of Household Arts at Framingham Normal School. The department offered a two-year degree program that was designed to prepare teachers of cooking and other domestic sciences. The curriculum emphasized physiology, chemistry, hygiene and the application of these sciences to the home. Students were expected to practice their newly-learned skills in the residence halls at the school and by teaching local high school students. Today, Framingham State College offers degrees in Food Science, Food & Nutrition and Health & Consumer Sciences.

These excerpts from the 1900-01 catalogue of Framingham Normal School announce the new Department of Household Arts and describe the requirements of the program and the courses offered.


 

State Normal School at Salem, Mass. Catalogue 1910-11. Boston, 1910. Salem State College Archives.

Photograph of Cooking Class, ca. 1920. Salem Normal School Photographs. Salem State College Archives.

Although Salem Normal School (now Salem State College) had no formal program in the household arts, a few courses in cooking, gardening, physiology and hygiene were offered for young women training to become teachers in the 1910s and 1920s.

 

 

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Manuscripts

 

Sally Ropes Orne.  Thanksgiving 1844.  Ropes Family Papers.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

Sarah Fiske Ropes (1795-1876), called Sally, married Joseph Orne (1796-1818) in 1817. The following year, Sally moved into the Ropes Mansion for the birth of their first child, Elizabeth. In September of 1818, Joseph died from tuberculosis; Sally and Elizabeth remained at the Ropes Mansion, along with Sally's unmarried younger sister, Abigail Ropes (1796-1839).

A number of documents in the Ropes family collection relate to planning meals, ordering dishes, and to the recipes used in the household.

 

Sally Ropes Orne.   Recipe: Lemmon Pudding, n.d.  Ropes Family Papers.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

 

Sally Ropes Orne.  Daily Menus, n.d.  Ropes Family Papers.  Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum.

 

 


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Primary Sources from Local Archives and Collections

 
 

Glass, H.  The Servants Directory, Improved; or, House-Keepers Companion.  Dublin: Printed by J. Potts, 1762 (4th edition).  Reprinted Schenectady, New York: United States Historical Research Service, 2001.

This guide provides instructions for servants or other housekeepers to clean household goods, recipes for making various cleansers, personal care balms, and cooking or keeping foods.  There is also a chart provided for paying wages.  This paper-bound book is available at the West India Store on Derby Street in Salem.

 “Women’s Service Club Aids Boston’s In-Migrant Domestics.” Bay State Banner. 31 December 1966.

This article describes the role of the Women’s Service Club in assisting women who move to Boston from other states to become domestic workers. The article notes that there are advertisements in the South promoting such work.  It also describes the challenges and legal issues that the Club faces in assisting the workers.

The Women’s Service Club was organized in 1918 by Mary Evans Wilson originally “to assist servicemen of color during World War I.”  The organization continues to offer resources and support to the community today. The Club is located on Massachusetts Avenue in Boston’s South End. For more information, see their website.

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Additional Primary Sources Used in Content and Follow-up Sessions

Sources selected and annotated by SALEM in History staff and Gayle Fischer, Salem State College.

 

 

Fannie Merritt Farmer.  The Boston Cooking-School Cook Book  Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1896.  Online at: http://digital.lib.msu.edu/projects/cookbooks/books/bostoncookingschool/bost.html (Viewed 16 February 2006)

From the introduction:

“With the progress of knowledge the needs of the human body have not been forgotten. During the last decade much time has been given by scientists to the study of foods and their dietetic value, and it is a subject which rightfully should demand much consideration from all. I certainly feel that the time is not far distant when a knowledge of the principles of diet will be an essential part of one's education. Then mankind will eat to live, will be able to do better mental and physical work, and disease will be less frequent... It is my wish that [this book] may not only be looked upon as a compilation of tried and tested recipes, but that it may awaken an interest through its condensed scientific knowledge which will lead to deeper thought and broader study of what to eat.”

Richards, Ellen H.  “Housekeeping in the Twentieth Century.”  American Kitchen Magazine. Vol. XII No. 6.  March, 1900.

Spofford, Mrs. E.E.P.  Servant Girl Question. Boston, 1881. 
(Also available at the Phillips Library, Peabody Essex Museum. call # E / S762.1 / 1881)

Kingsland, Mrs. Burton.  Etiquette for All Occasions.  NY:  Platt, & Nourse Co., 1919.

 

 

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