Recent Reform in Domestic Service.--Reform in theadministration of the household has been called a "belatedreform," one that has been so long a time in gaining the earof intelligent people that it must somehow make up for lost timeand gain a little on other reforms before it can hope to comeabreast of the progress of the age. In view of the fact thatcollege-bred women in greater numbers are assuming responsibilityfor the administration of the household, at the same time thatreform of domestic service is being agitated, it is natural tothink that the one thing partly accounts for the other. It iscertainly true that the question is now for the first time beingtreated scientifically by some of the most intelligent women inthe country. The Civic Club of Philadelphia has done honorablepioneer work in attempting to establish a standard of work andwages for domestic servants, and other similar clubs arefollowing in their footsteps. Also, there is beginning to be aliterature on the subject, best represented by Charles Booth'sStudy of Household Service in the eighth volume of his "Lifeand Labour of the People," and by the admirable workentitled "Domestic Service" by Miss Lucy M. Salmon,Professor of History at Vassar College. In the latter work, whichis easily the best authority on this much discussed but littleunderstood subject, the doctrine of survival through adaptationis for the first time applied to the economics of the household.One result has been the conviction that much of the friction inthe modern household arises from its lack of adaptation to thecivilization of to-day, and will disappear when domestic servicegets in line with the march of progress and ceases to try to meetmodern needs by the employment of mediaeval methods. The higheris dependent on the lower, and as our social reforms deal withthe houses and food of the poor for the sake of higher thingsthan mere physical well being, so all our reforms must begin atthe bottom and work up. We may take courage that reforms indomestic service and in household economics will spread, sincethey have now ceased to be regarded as impossibilities, and theproblems involved are being fairly faced. With the widening ofwoman's mental horizon has come a realizing sense of the truthregarding household work, that "in no otheroccupation is there so much waste of labor and capital,and in no other would a fraction of this waste beoverlooked."

This report endeavors to contribute to the problem the resultsof a study of facts concerning the domestic work of Negroes inPhiladelphia.

Enumeration.--In presenting these facts, weshall begin with an enumeration of Negro domestics.

The first table shows the number of colored domestic servants3in the Seventh Ward of Philadelphia by sex: and age periods:



(Domestic Service.)






Ten to twenty 48 274
Twenty-one to thirty 305 698
Thirty-one to forty 165 364
Forty-one and over 150 262
Age unknown 9 14
Total 677 1612


From this statement it will be seen that of the coloredservice in the ward about 30 per cent is furnished by menand 70 per cent by women. In the Seventh Ward of Philadelphiathere were found to be 9675 colored persons, of whom 2289 arehere seen to be domestic employee, or 23.7 per cent of the totalcolored population of the ward. It is a little over 30 per centof all the colored wage-earners of the ward.4

This per cent in domestic service agrees very nearly with thefollowing table taken from the eleventh census, showing theproportion of Negro wage-earners engaged in domestic service thecountry over to be 31.4 to the hundred.5






Native Whites.
Per cent.

Foreign Born.
Per cent.

Per cent.

Professions 5.5 2.2 1.1
Agriculture 41.0 25.5 57.2
Trade and transportation 17.0 14.0 4.7
Manufactures 22.9 31.3 5.6
Personal service 13.6 27.0 31.4
Total 100.0 100.0 100.0


When public waiters and waitresses in hotels and restaurants,as well as janitors and caretakers, are included in the count ofdomestic servants, it brings the ratio up nearly to 41 per centof the whole number of colored wage-earners in the ward.

After considering what per cent of the colored people aredomestics, it is interesting to notice what part of domesticservice is colored. So we turn from the ratios just given toconsider what proportion of the total of domestic service in theUnited States is performed by colored people. When we think ofAmerican domestic service as a whole, we have a more or lessclear conception of a great army of the colored race in thesouth, of the Irish and Germans in the north, of the Swedes inthe middle west, and of the Chinese on the Pacific Coast. Thecensus of 1890 gives the relative numbers of native white,foreign white and colored (including Chinese) domestic employesin the United States as follows:



(From the Eleventh Census ofthe United States.)

Geographical Section.


Per cent.







Pacific Coast . . . . . . . . . 37.58 35.83 **26.59
Eastern . . . . . . . . . 39.11 55.22 5.67
Middle* 176,194 175,819 42,049 44.71 44.62 10.67
Western . . . . . . . . . 59.98 33.11 6.91
Border (near the
Mason-Dixon line)
. . . . . . . . . 31.65 6.62 61.73
Southern . . . . . . . . . 16.77 3.10 80.13
United States . . . . . . . . . 41.65 29.55 28.80

* Includes New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey.

** This term includes also Chinese who are reckoned in thecensus as "colored."


These figures attribute nearly 29 per cent of the domesticservice of the country to the colored, who comprise only 12 1/2per cent of the population.

The colored perform about three times as much domestic servicein proportion to their numbers as the whites do. From this itwill be seen that,while the study of domestic service in anyconsideration of the condition of the colored people isimportant, the study of the Negro domestic is equally importantin any careful consideration of the domestic service problem. Itwill be noticed that the per cents for the middle section ofStates show only 10.67 per cent of the domestic service performedby colored people. The large urban populations of the New Yorkcities doubtless reduce this below what it would be if onlyPennsylvania and New Jersey were considered, as city servants aremostly drawn from our foreign white population, but if therate be accepted as true for the city of Philadelphia (though itis doubtless much too low for a city which has the largestcolored population of any city in the United States, except NewOrleans and Washington), if it be accepted for Philadelphia,where 4 per cent of the population is colored, we shall find thatthe Negro domestics "run ahead of their ticket" herealso in this matter of household service.

The probable reason for this disproportion is not far to seekwhen we remember the unpopularity of domestic service which keepswhites out, and reflect that the colored prejudice,which is knownto operate against the Negro in nearly all departments of laborexcepting drudgery, actually works in his favor in thematter of domestic service, where the competence of Negro waitersand the superior skill of Negro cooks is generally admitted.Hence, Negro labor, following the line of least resistance, flowsin enlarged streams into the channel of domestic service.



3 In this study of the condition of the coloredpeople of Philadelphia, all persons scheduled as "domesticservants" are connected with private establishments, waitersin hotels, etc., being classIfied with public service.

4 The 2289 domestics which constitute 34 per centof the 6611 Negroes in the Seventh Ward engaged in gainfuloccupations are those actually investigated in the specialinquiry into domestic service. The number may not include all thedomestics in the ward and does not include many classes ofpersons enumerated under "domestic and personalservice" in the table on page 108 of this volume.

5 Domestic service is classified in the censusunder "personal service," and includes personsclassified elsewhere in this investigation, such as hotelproprietors, but the number of Negroes thus included is small,and the error of comparison, therefore, small.



From W.E.B. DuBois, The PhiladelphiaNegro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Special Report (Part II),pp. 430-434.

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