Domestic Servants at the Turn of the 20th Century

Two women prepare a meal in a circa 1900 kitchen

Domestic Servants at the Turn of the 20th Century

Having a family member “in service” or being in service yourself was common before the end of World War I.  Domestic servants were needed to run the expansive homes of the upper middle class and wealthy prior to the invention of many electric conveniences.

While today we may think of working as a maid, for example, as being an undesirable position, this stigma did not exist at the turn of the 20th century.  Working in service was a respectable career path for the lower class.

Servants lived either in their employers’ houses or on their property.

Rules for Domestic Servants

Domestic servants followed a number of rules during their employment.  These rules were laid out in several household management books, including the famous Mrs. Beeton’s.

A maid serving tea
A maid serving tea

Rules include:

  • Upper servants should respect lower servants by treating them well.
  • Lower servants should respect upper servants by cheerfully following orders.
  • Servants should never speak of the family’s business to others.
  • Servants should not steal from their employers.
  • Employers should treat servants like people with responsibilities and should forgive human shortcomings.
  • Employers should know how much time it takes to complete household tasks.
  • Employers should not be afraid to give praise, reminders or disapproval.
  • Servants have the right to the tools necessary to perform their duties
  • Servants are to give proper notice before leaving a position, unless in the case of illness or injury.
  • Employers are not obligated to give references.
  • Employers must trust members of their management staff.
  • Employers and management must take steps to ensure staff does not take advantage of coworkers with kind personalities.

A Hierarchy Among Servants

While we may think of servitude as drudgery, there was a hierarchy among servants that affected how they were treated by employers and coworkers and how much they were paid.

My source listed the hierarchy of British servants in 1890.  However, many great homes in the United States and Canada would have employed this same hierarchy.  The number of servants, on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as their responsibilities, was determined by the size of the estate.  The larger the estate, the more specialized the work.

Professional employees:

  • Land steward: paid $11,000-$33,000 annually
  • House steward: paid $5,500-$11,000 annually
  • Governess: paid $2,700 annually

Upper house staff:

  • Butler: paid $4,300-$6,400 annually
  • Housekeeper: paid $3,700-$5,400 annually
  • Cook or chef: paid $3,200 to $32,000 annually
  • Valet: paid $2,100-$3,200 annually
  • Ladies maid: paid $2,100-$3,200 annually

Upper land staff:

  • Head groom/stable master: paid $3,100- $5,300 annually
  • Head gardener: paid $12,800 annually

Lower house staff:

  • A footman
    A footman

    First footman: paid $3,200 annually plus tips

  • Second footman: paid $2,700 annually
  • Head nurse: paid $2,700 annually
  • Footman: paid $2,100 annually
  • Chamber maid: paid $2,100 annually
  • Parlor maid: paid $2,100 annually
  • House maid: paid $1,700 annually
  • Between maid: paid $1,600 annually
  • Nurse: paid $1,100-$1,600 annually
  • Under cook: paid $1,600 annually
  • Kitchen maid: paid $1,600 annually
  • Scullery maid: paid $1,300 annually
  • Laundry maid: paid $1,300 annually
  • Page or tea boy: paid $860-$1,700 annually

Lower land staff:

  • Groom: paid $1,600 annually
  • Stable boy: paid $640-$1,300 annually
  • Game keeper: paid $3,100-$5,400 annually
  • Groundkeeper: paid $850-$1,700 annually
  • Gate keeper: paid $1,100 annually


Updated:  28 October 2020
Melina Druga
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Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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