M4C Logo AHRC Logo

Tabitha Lambert-Bramwell

History, University of Birmingham

Thesis title:

Domestic servants, professionalisation and the women�s emancipation movement, 1870-1914

My project will provide the first direct exploration of the centrality of domestic servants to the mass movement of middle-class women into professional work in Britain between 1870 and 1914.

My research will focus on six key questions:

  • How did domestic servants facilitate the move of their female employers into formal work and higher education?
  • How can we more adequately illuminate the agency of domestic servants in their own right?
  • How did women navigate their evolving dual-roles as both mistresses of households and as professional workers?
  • How did these relationships influence cross-class relations in modern Britain?
  • How did servants and employers navigate the home as a shared space and how did this shape ideals of privacy at home?
  • To what extent did working abroad alter servant and employer relationships and the work these individuals performed?
My project will draw heavily from personal writing and correspondence, enriched by sources such as advice literature, memoirs, periodicals, fiction and visual culture. It will also draw from collections such as the Autograph Letters Collection and the records of the Girls’ Friendly Society at the Women’s Library, alongside collections in relation to the alumnae of some of the earliest universities to admit women. The records of the British Women’s Emigration Association will be of particular interest: one main point of discussion in the association’s correspondence was the necessity of good servants for middle-class women on the international stage.

This research will centralise the seismic impact servants had on the expansion of the workforce in historiographical debates. This project addresses questions still relevant today: although domestic service is commonly described as declining following the First World War, domestic cleaning is still a field of work occupied by working-class women, and employing cleaners remains a societal status symbol for many households.

Research Area

  • Cultural History
  • History

Conferences

'Women's experiences of workhouses, 1858-1918' Historical Perspectives Online Seminar Series, 19th October 2022

Public Engagement & Impact

  • I have been a guest speaker for branches of the Women's Institute and the National Women's Register, as well as local historic interest societies.