A Road Scholar Program by Erika Holst
Having live-in domestic servants seems like the height of luxury today, but in the nineteenth century, “hired girls” were common in middle-class households in Illinois. In a society without electricity and running water, household chores were onerous, and in the nineteenth century, a wave of immigrants made labor cheap and plentiful. The result was a society that grew increasingly stratified as the century wore on and the social hierarchy became more entrenched. In domestic servant situations, working-class men and women lived and worked side-by-side with their employers yet were considered second-class citizens, often leading to tense relationships. Who were these individuals? What were their duties? What was their experience like within the household? What were their employers’ experiences living and working intimately with a cross-section of society that they might never have encountered otherwise? How did the nature of domestic service evolve as the century progressed? This presentation will address these questions and more. The audience will be invited to handle period artifacts associated with domestic service.