Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market

In 1920, New York City “domestic servants” like cooks and houseworkers cost $65 or $75 a month, down from $80 or $90 a year prior. Why? Workforce supply was catching up with customer demand, due to immigration and women losing factory jobs they’d temporarily held during World War I.

For the New York housekeepers, it would seem, are on strike. They have not exactly got together in a closed shop or yet engaged walking delegates, as is the way with our best unions, but somehow a great many of them have decided that the “flood of immigration” is bringing them over Olgas and Gretchens at the dear old $35-a-month-figure, if not $25 — and that, therefore, Delia and Agnes can go hang or come down.

Interesting that Gretchen was used as shorthand for an immigrant’s name in 1920; I know a Gretchen now, and she’s American-born.

The article also featured this antiquated minstrel-style quote from a housekeeper responding to an employment request from a woman with two children.

“Oh, thank de Lord!” breathed the respectable-looking negro woman who had stopped me on the street just outside the door of another agency. “Honey,” she said, “I jes’ naterly can’t stand no house without its got chillen runnin’ ’round ‘yellin.’ ‘Aunty, ain’t them cookies done?’ Sure, I been cookin’ cookies ‘fore you born. Yes’m, I’ll work for $12 a week. It ain’t what I been gittin,’ but I wants a good home for Winter.”

Different times.

Turning Tide in the Domestic Servant Market

Published: Sunday, December 5, 1920

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