A steady, mature woman is wanted, one who can hold her own, be discreet, staid, and at the same time affable, even-tempered, obliging, and too sensible to put on airs. She has to deal with people of widely different mental and moral calibre, belonging to varying classes of society; therefore, she must be judicious and exercise tact in her treatment of passengers, as well as reserve and decorum in her intercourse with the ship's officers and crew.
Anyone who has had the disagreeable experience of travelling with an inattentive, flighty, or "dressy" stewardess will realise that it is bad policy on the part of a steamship company to have such a woman in its employment.
Her health should be good, and naturally she must like the sea and be a fair sailor. It is to her interest to be agile and active. When she grows stout and heavy, her employers will think of putting someone younger in her place, for she will be slow at her work. A capable woman, however, may easily continue her employment till the age of sixty.
Young women are sometimes engaged as assistant-stewardesses, and on one of the gigantic liners their assistance must be very necessary. But, as was remarked before, each steamship company has its own regulations concerning the duties of the stewardess.
One well-known steamship company has a small pension scheme for stewardesses, but the granting of a pension depends on the merits of the stewardess and her deserts. She may rely on fair treatment.
But whether a pension succeeds service or not, a stewardess with a satisfactory record can make a very good income, as women's incomes go. Not that her salary is high, but, as the reader will doubtless surmise, she reaps a very harvest of tips from passengers.
She may start as third-class stewardess, or stewardess-matron as she is sometimes called, earning £3 a month, when she has come fresh from her hospital training. In due time she is promoted to be second-class stewardess, then first-class stewardess, with a salary of £4 a month.
As to her tips, they may be set down as averaging yearly £100 to £120. They may exceed or fall short of these amounts, but always they represent a valuable augmentation of salary.
The stewardess must disburse tips on her own account - to the steward and to the boys. On the other hand, it is not uncommon to allow her £I for travelling expenses; and if she happens to serve one of the best companies she may be paid I0s. a week or thereabouts while in port during a fortnight or three weeks awaiting the departure of her next vessel.
In the case of a small steamship company, a vessel in which a stewardess has served may be laid up in port some time, and the stewardess, unless she has saved money for such an occasion, may have to endure hardship while awaiting another engagement.
Practically and legally, the engagement terminates with the voyage, but with all good companies employment is regarded as continuous.
As a rule, on British liners a stewardess of English nationality is preferred. If she is in difficulty through inability to speak the language of a foreign passenger, there are usually two or three foreign waiters on board who can interpret for her.
One company prefers a woman to be not less than 5ft. 4m. in height. Briefly, the duties of a first-class stewardess belong to the domestic type. She has to look after the women and children passengers, and especially to attend to the sea-sick and invalids. She must arrange for the baths, and be up betimes in the morning to bring those who desire it an early cup of tea. She may have to carry to the cabin a heavy can of hot water, or before dinner assist in fastening up a dress.
But what is known as "menial" work is outside her province. For instance, someone else empties the water in the cabins. She finds plenty to do in attending to her large "family," and between 5.30 a.m. and 9 p.m. cannot count on a rest of more than one or two hours in the afternoon. She takes her meals when the children have finished theirs, and goes to the pantry to obtain them.
She shares a cabin with another stewardess, usually one of the small cabins, so that she must accommodate herself to a limited space for herself and her possessions.
Then she has to exercise matronly supervision over the young girls on board, and to see that they retire to their cabins in reasonable time at night, not only for their own sakes, but to secure the quiet which seems to last so short a time on board ship. And she has to maintain the regulations laid down by the company for the well-being and good conduct of the community, which in a big liner is as populous as a large village.
When a couple of passengers - husband and wife - occupy the same cabin, she makes the wife's bed, while the steward makes the husband's; and as she has a good deal to do with the steward and with others of the ship's servants, she must become a persona grata with everyone.
Any moment she may be called upon to perform her arduous duties in a storm, or to pacify frightened women and children in a shipwreck or fire. That a stewardess can rise to such an occasion we have had several such notable instances to prove as that of the heroic stewardesss of the ill-fated "Stella." This noble woman, finding that one of her charges, a lady passenger, had no life-belt, took off her own and fastened it herself round the other woman. She then calmly awaited her fate on board the sinking vessel, and perished with noblest fortitude, having done her duty to the last.
How to Obtain a Post
The method of obtaining a post as stewardess is by application to the offices of the steamship companies, addresses of which are given in directories and railway timetable books. A nurse who is fond of travel, likes the sea, is interested in human beings, and good at looking after them, might prefer being on a vessel to remaining in a hospital. She will certainly see much of life, and during the times she is in foreign ports get interesting glimpses of other countries and customs.
If she is wise, she will work to deserve the respect of her employers, and keep to the same steamship company, for it is not easy to get transferred to another one, and there are always plenty of women eager to fill a comparatively small number of vacancies.