History, University of Birmingham
My thesis examines the relationships between domestic servants and newly professionalised middle-class women in Britain between 1870 and 1914. The emergence of professional women workers coincided with a period of time when domestic servants made up the largest occupational group of women workers. The vast majority of middle-class household would have employed at least one servant. In light of this, I consider the role played by servants in facilitating middle-class women’s entry into formal education and professional work and aim to illuminate the agency of servants in their own right. My thesis examines the formation of middle-class women’s identities; how did middle-class women navigate their dual roles as employers of servants and professional workers, and how did these relationships influence cross-class relationships more widely in modern Britain? I question how middle-class women working from home and their servants navigated the shared space of the home, and how this influenced ideals of privacy at home. Furthermore, I consider how servants’ roles changed on the international stage and were influenced by migration and travel.
As well as utilising life-writing, correspondence, periodicals and other forms of published literature, my research will benefit from quantitative methodologies. At present there are no established statistics regarding the correlation between women who took up professional work in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and whether they employed fewer or more servants than unemployed middle-class women. Through a combination of census records, employment advertisements and the records of servants’ registries, I will contribute towards a wider understanding of the scale and interconnectedness of the women’s labour force in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain.
My research contributes towards histories of women’s work, feminism and class in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Britain. I will argue that domestic servants played a central and pivotal role to the expansion of the professional female workforce and the Women’s Emancipation Movement.