The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers, Digital Edition > My Day
My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt


HYDE PARK, Sunday—There is an article in one of the papers today which will bring chuckles to anyone who knows the younger set on Long Island. It is by a butler who tells what's wrong with the employers he's worked for. Although it is amusing and in some ways very true, there is another side to the picture, and I think both sides should be presented fairly.

There is no question but what in the past the employer did not provide "servants" with the type of comfortable living quarters to which they are entitled. But I think it is the exception today when an employer does not give comfortable rooms and furnishings.

I am entirely in accord that a change in the name is desirable. I have always disliked the word "servant." Could one say domestic helper, or is there a better name? The job, if a family and a home are to be well cared for, is a skilled worker's job.

I do not find the story of the woman who served 40 years in one family and then left all she had to her employer's son rather than to her own relatives, a sad tale. I think she was undoubtedly happy in her work and loved those whom she served. That can be a very rare, close and satisfying relationship. No compensation in wages can possibly measure the tie that exists between employer and employee when years of love and respect have forged the bond.

I think the unionization of domestic employees will be salutary both for the employer and the employee. The employer would have to be more accurate in describing the job and less changeable. The employee would have to be well trained and live up to certain standards, both as to the manner in which the job was done and the time it took to execute. There would have to be definite achievement and skill in order to obtain certain wages.

The butler who writes this sad and partially true tale does not mention that many a couple in service today is demanding and receiving from $300 to $400 a month in addition to board and lodging, which at present living costs would probably mean an additional $200 a month. There are not many employers, young or old, who can afford that amount of money for help in their household tasks.

Forty or 50 years ago, the monthly rate of pay in households with several employees was $40 to $50 for a cook, $25 to $30 for a housemaid or waitress, and $18 to $20 for a kitchen maid, with room and board for all. These wages rose until about 20 years ago, when a cook received $80 to $100 a month, a butler about $70 or more, and the other employees between $60 and $70 a month. Costs of food and rent were far lower, so that for the salary received by a couple today, one could have a house completely staffed with four or five well-trained domestic employees. It meant less work for everyone, of course, but less pay. I am not sure that in the aggregate, however, those domestic employees of an earlier era really had such a bad time!

E. R.


Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Hyde Park (Dutchess County, N.Y., United States) [ index ]
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About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, October 28, 1946

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.