There can be little doubt that the monotony of the life of adomestic employee is one of the chief obstacles in the wayof many competent workers who, but for this, might enterservice as a permanent employment. Although household workis less arduous than many other forms of manual labor, yet it istrue of it more than of almost any other occupation that itdemands practically the whole of the worker's time. Nearly all ofthe restaurant waiters interviewed have "only two hours at atime," and it will readily be understood that with theirleisure so broken they find it difficult to employ it to any verygreat advantage, either in the direction of study or ofrecreation. The liberty of the "private waiter" (excepton his day out) is even less than that of the hotel waiter.Household work is a ceaseless round which, like woman's work, is"never done." And the private domestic, even when givenconsiderable liberty and free time while within the household,must always hold himself in readiness to answer any call at amoment's notice. All this is a very serious objection in theminds of most young people, who, as has been seen, constitute thegreater part of domestic service everywhere. Without doubt itdeters many whites as well as blacks, and many rural as well asurban people, from entering household service. Indeed, it isprobable that it determines in a very considerable degree thepersonnel of domestic service in England as well as throughoutthe United States, and somewhat modifies its character in thematter of permanence, as many English girls prefer factory work,and many girls in our cotton-growing and grape-raising regions,as well as in our factory towns, prefer field and factory workwhen it is to be had, and only fall back into the ranks ofdomestic service when the season is passed or factory work slack.Of the restlessness of household servants in England, Mr. Boothsays: 13 "Many of this class (the middle grade)only go to service when factory work is slack. They almostuniversally stipulate for one whole day's holiday in everymonth--indeed, with most of them, this seems to be the one thingwhich makes the servant's life worth living. . . The dullness andmonotony of a domestic servant's life seems to be the mostgenerally pressing question. The demand is for more Sundays andevenings out and a monthly holiday. . . Careful mistresses assertthat they find that even quite young girls fresh from the countrychafe under any restriction as to the manner in which they shallspend their leisure, or as to being out late alone."
The same tendencies are noticeable throughout Americandomestic service, both with native whites, foreign whites, andcolored domestics. This dissatisfaction is shown by the restlessattempts of domestics to enter other occupations. Among Americandomestic employee the country over, 28 per cent are foundto have been engaged in other occupations, such as hoppicking,grape- and cotton-picking and factory work.14 Thatthese people are now employed in domestic work, Miss Salmonbelieves, means not so much a preference for service as that itis a sort of derniere ressort to be taken up only whenno better paid or more popular work offers. For the other kindsof work named the employee get wages so high as to enable them tolive for a considerable time in idleness--hence its popularityamong young people in many places.
Among the colored people in the city of Philadelphia, 524domestics report in regard to other occupations. Of this number91, or 17.4 per cent, have done, or attempted to get theopportunity to do, other work than domestic service, and it isnoticeable that the employment which has occupied this 17.4 percent of colored domestics has been very different in characterfrom the field and factory work attracting young domestics ingeneral. Among colored city domestics, the work done by the womenbefore entering service has very generally been dressmaking,typewriting or teaching, while the men have worked as porters, ordrug clerks, or have practiced trades or even professions. Oneman was encountered who had graduated from Hampton and from a lawschool as well, while several stone-cutters, brick masons andcarpenters were found who had drifted or been forced intothe ranks of domestic service.
The chief difference between the case of these Negro domesticsin the city and the case of the grape-pickers and factory handsboth in England and America who have tried to leave servicefor other work is indicated by the widely different character ofthe work sought in each case. The grape- and cotton-pickers andthe factory hands leave service only temporarily, lured bythe high wages and the "liveliness" of the work, fullyexpecting all the time to return to service when the harvestingis over and their wages spent; while the colored city employeewho attempt to get other work wish to leave domestic servicepermanently. They wish to do this partly because they considerthat service savors of slavery and that they are degraded by it,and, being ambitious of achieving respectability, they attempt tobetter their social standing by becoming teachers or dressmakers;partly also because they hope for higher wages from teaching andother work than they receive as domestics. The difference betweenthe proportion of servants the country over who have done otherwork and the proportion of colored domestics in Philadelphia whohave done or attempted to do other work is a large one.Twenty-eight per cent of general domestic service as contrastedwith 17.4 per cent of colored domestic service shows a differencewhich is almost in the ratio of five to three. And also it mustbe remembered--and this accentuates the difference stillfurther--that the colored servants who have tried to get otherwork and failed have also been counted, since the attempt showedtheir restlessness in service and their desire to leave it. Theremust be some reason for this apparent willingness to remain inservice on the part of the colored people. In answer to theschedule question, "Have you ever tried to do other work?" a large number of domestics replied, "I never go anyplace I'm not sure of--I won't give them a chance to refuseme." One girl who had taught for four years and who thinksshe lost her place at the end of that time from prejudice on thepart of the school committee says, without the slightest apparenttouch of resentment, "The reason I don't try to teach isbecause I know I'd have trouble, and I can save as much thisway." Another ex-teacher has now been a chambermaid forseveral years for the same reason. One Philadelphia carpenter andbuilder says, "We have five granddaughters--my son'schildren--from twenty-three years old to fourteen; and what canwe do with them? They can't get teachers' places, though they aregood students. Dressmaking is about played out. Service? Theydon't want to do that. Typewriting is about theonly hope, and the oldest one was refused that the otherday."
One man, now a waiter, was formerly a stock clerk for theEureka Silk Company, of Cincinnati, Ohio, and held his placethere for seven years. At the end of that time he applied byletter for a similar position in Philadelphia, and was told to"come along; everything was satisfactory; his record wasgood and they would try him." When he appeared in personthey inquired, " Are you Mr. ------------?" . . ."Well, we have another applicant on file who is comingaround to-day. If we don't decide on him we'll let youknow." He left his address and has not heard from the firmsince. He says, "Waiting is all we can get to do, and lotswill refuse us that. No man as dark as I am could get work at oneof the large apartment houses. They want a 'bright skin.' It isthe same in many hotels, and families, too." Another manstates that when he applied for office work the clerk to whom headdressed his remarks looked at him and did not answer him atall; while yet another, a fine looking young man of the typecalled a "brown skin," said he had been refused clerk'swork with insults, which "it would be impossible for him torepeat before a lady--words he would not soil his lipswith." Fortunately, however, this is becoming less common.When colored domestics are refused it appears to be generallywith the simple statement that white help is preferred. It shouldbe said here that among those who said that they had neverattempted anything except domestic employment, fifty-two, orabout 10 per cent, have even been refused domestic work whenapplying for it. Some of these were inclined to charge therefusal to race prejudice; some attribute it to the fact thatunintelligent employers class all colored people together; or, toput it in their own words, "If the mistresses has bad luckwith one colored girl they won't never have another. They thinkall colored is alike." Still others think it is not a racequestion at all, but merely one of supply and demand. As one manput it, " There isn't work enough or places enough to goround; that's it." There are many well-authenticated casesalso of "light" colored people who have retained theirplaces from two to fifteen years, under the impression, on thepart of the employer, that they were white people; but on thediscovery of the slight tincture of African blood, although itcould not be detected, and although the work had beenentirely satisfactory, their situations were immediatelyforfeited. Such instances might be multiplied indefinitely, asthey were encountered upon every hand.
In consideration of all this, it appears highly probable thatthe Negroes are deterred in many cases from attempting to obtainother work, from unwillingness to run the risk of insult orfailure. The moral certainty of "having trouble" isprobably sufficient to account for the comparatively lowpercentage of colored domestics who have attempted to leaveservice, while the well-known fact that so many industries areclosed against the race would account in large measure for thescarcity of those who have actually been engaged in otheremployments. These facts are sufficient to explain the 10.6 percent difference in the two percentages compared.
Judging by the character of the work sought by the domesticswho have left or attempted to leave service, it seems fair toconclude that,while the monotony of service and the low pay, ascompared with harvest wages, are the chief things that ruralAmerican servants have against it, probably the chief objectionof colored city domestics against service is the social stigmawhich rightly or wrongly attaches to it. It savors to them of thedegradation of their slavery days, while they believe that to bea teacher is to achieve immediate social position and become arespected member of the community. Colored city domestics seekother work, therefore, from the desire to escape socialdegradation first, from the desire for greater personal freedomnext, and finally from the hope of higher remuneration.
But while the social stigma is the city Negro's chiefobjection to domestic service there can be no doubt that from hispoint of view this dullness of the life is one of its mostserious drawbacks--the most serious probably with the exceptionof the one already named. That the monotony of service is askeenly felt by the colored people as by any other domestics mayeasily be inferred both from the well-known fact of the naturaljoyousness and gaiety of the Negro's disposition, and also fromthe fact, shown in Table XI, that so large a proportion of them,as compared with other domestics, stipulate for the freedom oftheir evenings. It was found from schedules relating to 564 casesthat 75.6 per cent of all the Negro men servants interviewed and49.3 per cent of all the women servants go home from work. Whenthis is contrasted with the per cent of domestic servants thecountry over who go home from work, we find a remarkabledivergence. In general service15 40 per cent of themen and only 2 per cent of the women lodge at home, that is tosay, outside the establishment of the employer. This seems toshow clearly the greater tendency of the colored domestic toescape from the solitary confinement to which our present systemof household management condemns all the servants in"single-handed" places. It should be marked, however,that the per cents relating to Philadelphia colored people hereare based on less than 600 schedules, while those relating togeneral service are based upon over 2500. Also, it is muchoftener the case among colored domestics that they work in thesame city in which their families and friends live, while manywhite women domestics have no home nearer than Ireland or Sweden,and so they naturally lodge at their working places, while thecolored women as naturally lodge at home when it is possible todo so.
Questions will arise as to the amount of leisure time usuallygranted to colored domestics and how this leisure is employed.
It would be impossible to tabulate the statements returned inanswer to the question, "Number of hours free eachmonth," but it may be said in general that a very greatnumber of different arrangements obtain even in this one ward ofone city. The most of them include one afternoon each week andthe evening or the afternoon and evening of alternate Sundays.For the greater number of both men and women domestics reportthis amount of leisure while some are allowed only one afternoonand every third Sunday or one afternoon and every fourth Sunday.Still a considerable number are given the usual afternoon of aweek day and every Sunday afternoon as well. Some havetheir afternoon and alternate Sundays and one or more evenings,and a considerable number have this arrangement with the freedomof all their evenings. While still others have twoafternoons weekly and alternate Sundays. The whole holidayevery month which is so dear to the English householdservant is not found in American domestic service. No Negroemploye in the Philadelphia ward investigated reported such awhole holiday, however liberal might be the leisuregranted in the shape of parts of different days; and MissSalmon's treatment of the subject mentions no whole day ofleisure for domestics, but states that "in the case of morethan 1000 employees at least one afternoon each week is given,while more than 400 employers give a part of Sunday."
The question how their leisure is employed was answered byonly 257 colored domestics, of whom 206 were women and only 51were men. It will be seen from the tabulation of these returnsthat the Negro church is very closely bound up with the problemof the recreations of the Negro people, and in this connection aword of explanation is necessary to acquaint the general readerwith the status of the Negro church. To quote from a well-knownAmerican scholar and writer who is an authority upon racequestions: "Among most people the primitive sociologicalgroup was the family or at least the clan. Not so among AmericanNegroes; such vestiges of primitive organization among the Negroslaves were destroyed by the slaveship. In this country the firstdistinct voluntary organization of Negroes was the Negro church.The Negro church came before the Negro home; it ante-dates theirsocial life, and in every respect it stands to-day as thefullest, broadest expression of organized Negro life. . . . Weare so familiar with churches, and church work is so near to us,that we have scarce time to view it in perspective and to realizethat in origin and functions the Negro church is a broader,deeper and more comprehensive social organism than the churchesof white Americans. The Negro church is not simply an organismfor the propagation of religion; it is the centre of social,intellectual and religious life of an organized group ofindividuals. It provides social intercourse, it providesamusements of various kinds, it serves as a newspaper andintelligence bureau, it supplants the theatre, it directs thepicnic and excursion, it furnishes the music, it introduces thestranger to the community, it serves as a lyceum, library andlecture bureau; it is, in fine, the central organ of theorganized life of the American Negro, for amusement, relaxation,instruction and religion. To maintain its pre-eminence the Negrochurch has been forced to compete with the dance-hall, thetheatre and the home as an amusement-giving agency. Aided bycolor proscription in public amusements, aided by the factmentioned before--that the church among us is older than thehome--the church has been peculiarly successful, so that of the10,000 Philadelphia Negroes whom I asked, 'Where do you get youramusements?' fully three-quarters could only answer, 'From thechurches.' " 17
This centralization of amusements about the church showsitself very conspicuously in the following tabulation based on257 records
|No.||Per Cent||No.||Per Cent|
|Church and church entertainments and |
|Church and visits to friends||11||21.6||22||10.7|
|Church and home (occasional concert |
|Church and study||10||19.6||29||14.1|
|Theatre, concerts, balls, bicycling, etc.||5||9.8||10||4.8|
|Home resting (women "home resting |
If these figures may be taken as typical nearly 57 per cent ofthe Negro men and nearly 66 per cent of the Negro women indomestic service look to the churches and the churchentertainments for all their recreations except those engagedwithin the precincts of their own homes, such as home studies,music and social visits. Indeed the number who depend upon thechurch in this matter should be even greater than these figuresindicate, since it is true that many of those reporting that theyspend their leisure "at home, resting," or "athome, sewing and clearing up," also in most cases report inanswer to question twenty-three of the schedule, the church ofwhich they are members and whose regular services they regularlyattend. Of the seventeen men reporting that their leisure isspent in "resting up" only two report that they attendno church and of the sixty-onewomen thus classified only fourattend no church. If we count these "at home" domesticsthen where they really belong, with the church-goers, we shallhave 93.2 per cent of the women and 86.3 per cent of the menamong domestics who depend on the church for their lectures,libraries, musicales, festivals, etc., as well as for theirreligious instruction and uplift. This gives a combined averageof 91.8 per cent of all colored domestics whose usualentertainment and instruction is of this kind.
A comparison of the per cents of those whose leisure ischiefly devoted to study shows that 19.6 per cent of the men areso classified to 14.1 per cent of the women. Nearly a third ofthe women so classed are music students; and if these are countedout we shall have only 9.7 per cent of the women domesticsdevoting their leisure chiefly to study and reading. One youngwaiter, a West Indian, was devoting his spare time to the studyof English and meantime was taking his directions from hisemployer in French. Another waiter reported that he read"the classics" in his spare hours, and still anotherconfessed to a fondness for "the poets" while at thesame time he offered a pleasing contrast to many of the poets headmired, in having his collar and white tie and complete costumequite faultlessly neat and well ordered. The mistress of onehousehold says, "Our waiter has the education of agentleman," but on the other hand one employer whosejudgments were evidently free from bias says, "Our man maybe a good lawyer but he certainly is not a good waiter."This was however the only adverse criticism offered in regard toany of the domestics who were students and readers. Itappears that educated domestics are generally no worse workersthan others, if they are no better. In at least two casesit appeared that the educated domestic did better household workthan others. These were a cook and maid whose employer said bothher girls read a great deal and apparently spent their time upongood literature; her cook was then reading "Hyperion,"she said. The question naturally followed, "Is she a goodcook ?" "Yes, I have never had a more efficientgirl" was the ready reply, "and I have employed bothwhite and colored. These are two of the cleanest girls Ihave ever had in the house."
Several of the women servants reported their leisure devotedchiefly to "literaries," all of which, so far as theinvestigator was able to learn, were connected with the churches.These students and readers among domestic servants doubtless arethe more ambitious ones who are anxious to improve everyopportunity with the hope of finally working their way out ofservice. This high per cent of readers among colored domestics,20 per cent of the men and 10 per cent of the women, ought not tobe surprising, however, when we remember that 10 per cent ofthese people have had some training higher than the common schooland might therefore be expected to have literary taste.
In regard to the home-keeping domestics, if the first and lastclasses in Table XV be combined, we find 41.2 per cent ofhome-keeping women domestics who are either at home or at theirchurches during their leisure time. At the Pennsylvania Hospitalthe investigator was informed by one of the officials in chargethat more late passes were given to the white than to the coloredservants, and there are about equal numbers of each raceemployed.
The church affiliation of colored domestic servants inPhiladelphia may be given in this connection. Reports from 548persons were received on this point, 400 women and 148 men. Thefollowing table shows the various denominations by number and percent:
|No.||Per Cent.||No.||Per Cent.|
|Attending all churches||2||1.4||6||1.5|
|Attending no church||2||1.3||1||0.3|
These per cents are united into combined averages andrepresented in graphic form in the following diagram:
13 Charles Booth, vol. 8, chapter on HouseholdService.
14 L. M. Salmon, " Domestic Service," p.110.
15 L. M. Salmon, "Domeseic Service," p.92. Based on 2545 cases.
17 Dr. W. E. B. DuBois, in the "CollegeSettlement News," Philadelphia, July, 1897. See also page197 et seq., in this volume.
From W.E.B. DuBois, The PhiladelphiaNegro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Special Report (Part VI),pp. 463-473.
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