A MONG the most difficult questions which present themselves to the housekeeper are those connected with securing help in the performance of her household tasks. There are the various things which must be done to keep the house a clean, attractive, well-ordered place in which to live and to maintain the machinery for the daily feeding, the nightly sleeping, the periodic dressing of children, and the cleansing of linen, garments, and places used. Which of these tasks shall be performed by members of the family, which by persons who live with the family though not of it, which by persons who come in to perform the task and go when it is done, and which by those to whom the task can be taken, is one of the fundamental questions of administration. There are communities, few and far between, in which domestic service is almost eliminated as a household difficulty. In a city in which the laundry business has been well organized, so that the housekeeper can both risk her garments and pay the bills, where it is possible to secure at reasonable rates fairly skilled service by the hour or by the task (as in the case, of the so-called employment agencies generally conducted by Japanese in San Francisco), where the delicatessen shops make easy the private eating of prepared dishes and the restaurants tempt to the congregate dining-room, and where perhaps the climate is such as to reduce to a minimum the need of fires and the fuel gives rise to little dust and smoke, the household tasks may be reduced to the daily putting in order, caring for the children in the group, and doing a small amount of work in connection with the meals. With the invention of labor-saving devices, too, and the development of collective, perhaps municipal, provision of light, water, and heat, the task is further simplified. In households in which the mother and daughters have acquired the household arts, are physically strong, and have administrative capacity, the maid-servant may be entirely dispensed with. For many housekeepers, however, whose physical strength is not great, whose early training in the household arts has been inadequate, or who have outside interests, the need of intelligent and skilled service within the home is very urgent and today often satisfied only with great difficulty. The reasons for this are interesting and possibly worth reviewing at this point.
In the first place, although the relationship of mistress and maid is a relationship with which well-nigh universally acknowledged difficulties are associated, it has until recently been the subject of little careful or scientific study. Since any one can enroll herself among the so-called domestic servants, however little training she may have or however lacking in capital of any sort, and because the products of the labor are not only transient in character but measured in terms, not of profit but of comfort and well-being, much less attention has been given to it than to factory or commercial employment. Part of this failure to observe closely and to analyze adequately the factors in the situation is also due to the fact that the immediate parties to the wage-bargain in this case are women, often married or of less than full age, and so not only legally incapable but lacking inducement to scan their acts closely.
Undoubtedly the historical association of this relationship with that of master and slave, master and redemp-tioner, and master and apprentice, all involving both legal and social inferiority, has something to do with the contempt often felt not only for the maid-servant as an individual, but for the relationship itself. "Menial," which once suggested "within the walls" (m‘nia), has become synonymous with "despicable." The stigma of social inferiority attaches at the present time; the maid is addressed by her first instead of by her family name, is excluded from social intercourse with the group she serves, and is often regarded as socially below the worker in the factory and the shop. At present, of course, these differences are most marked in those communities in which the domestic servant group is wholly or largely colored and where the shadow of slavery still is heaviest; and the fact that, in other sections of the country, the great majority of those who find their way into this kind of employment are foreign-born or children of foreigners undoubtedly retards the establishment of a more democratic relationship, and perhaps hinders the more rapid awakening of housekeepers to the desirability of a change of attitude on this question. They often feel a contempt for the person of color or for the foreign girl who serves, and they continue to despise the service she renders.
Certain associations with the earlier legal peculiarities too, as well as with the social differences, impede the rational consideration and consequent improvement of this occupation. The old law books said that the maid was under a duty to obey all "lawful orders," and were full of illustrations of how harsh and arbitrary an order might be and still be "lawful." This meant, of course, that the mistress was entitled to the use of the person of the maid rather than to the product of her labor, and the implication of something very like servitude was therefore present. Another peculiarity of this relationship is its so-called "entirety." If either party fails to perform in full the obligation undertaken, she forfeits the right to claim any fulfillment by the other party. If, for example, the maid has undertaken to work for a week, and quits after three days without fault on the mistress's part, no wages can be claimed for the three days' work. On the other hand, if, after one day, the mistress discharges without good cause, the entire week's pay may be claimed. This doctrine does not prevail in all communities. Some states, New Hampshire, Kansas, and a number of others, have adopted an equitable theory that since the employer has been enriched by the service performed, and cannot return it, she will be called upon to pay what the service was reasonably worth. Moreover, whether the agreement was for a given period or not is often a difficult question of fact, to be determined in the light of the custom prevailing in any given locality. So apt is there to be misunderstanding on this point that in some cities, notably New York, the Legal Aid Society has issued statements warning both mistresses and maids upon this subject, and urging them to make clear to each other their intention in the matter and to be prepared to fulfill their obligation.