“Powerless power”: The status of female domestic workers in Russia in the second half of the 19th - early 20th century

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Abstract


The proposed article investigates the specifics of social status of urban female domestic servants in post-reform Russia. On the basis of a wide range of sources, including statistical materials, printed press, household manuals and ego-documents, the author distinguishes between two groups in this category of population that were fundamentally different in their status in the master’s family. In the post-reform period in Russia, the work of maidservants was not standardized, there were no guarantees from hirers regarding both working conditions and cases of dismissal and disability. Widespread sexual harassment and abuse seriously worsened the position of maidservants. A significant influx of peasant girls, who considered themselves fully prepared for the work of domestic servants, into the city, created a gigantic supply At the same time, the overwhelming majority of the job seekers did not have any idea about the activities that they were to carry out. Making endless blunders, the clumsy peasant girl acquired professional skills and learned to live in the master’s family, suffering insults and harassment and working hard only to avoid being kicked out. As a result, those girls who had been able to endure several years of torment, acquired not only professional skills, but were trained to live in the city, to use their position to earn money, to protect themselves from encroachment, or to use their attractiveness as a weapon. With the growth of education of female peasant youth, their increasing familiarity with judicial institutions, and the intensification of the activities of various organizations involved in helping those women with education and employment, female domestic servants felt more secure and ready to defend their rights. As a result, despite the seemingly gigantic supply, it was, in fact, extremely difficult to find a suitable maidservant for the household. The choice available to the owners was limited to two options - a docile slouch, or a maid knowing her worth and requiring consideration of her interests.


Introduction In the second half of the 19th century, amid its large-scale modernization processes, Russia saw a significant increase in the proportion of women forced to leave the sphere of household production and start independently seeking out livelihoods by becoming hired workers. The number of female workers united by the mere fact of being hired included representatives of the most different classes - from hereditary noblewomen, to their former serfs. The positions held by them also varied, including civil servants who served in state institutions, representatives of intellectual professions, as well as factory workers. The most typical form of female earnings, which, according to the common opinion, did not require special skills and was accessible to literally everyone, was the job of a domestic servant. No wonder that this category of the population was represented by almost 1.3 million people, or 41% of the total “independent” female population, according to the official data of the 1897 General Census, which, as the census takers themselves admitted, were greatly underestimated.1 Despite the obvious need to research the social status of such a significant category of the empire’s population and its place in the social and economic structure of the country, to study the degree of its involvement in migration, socio-political and cultural processes, it is only in the most recent years that interest in analyzing the state of female domestic servants in post-reform Russia has been manifested. It is distinctive that the first work specifically devoted to the position of women working as maidservants was the work by the German researcher A. Rustemeyer, published at the end of the past century.2 The author analyzes various aspects of the life of domestic servants of the capital city in the period from the abolition of serfdom to the revolutionary events of 1917. According to the author, the institution of domestic servants in Russia remained the “bastion of the pre-industrial society”, which preserved the patriarchal relations characteristic of the era of serfdom. It was only in only in the 2010s that the first works on the status of post-reform female domestic servants appeared in Russian historiography. These studies offered a classification of domestic workers3, characteristics of their working conditions and health status,4 evaluation of hirers’ requirements and the ability of maidservants to meet these requirements.5 Attention was also paid to the specifics of deviant behavior in this category of population.6 It was not until 2018 that a work addressing the study of the status of female domestic servants on the basis of a regional (Orenburg) material,7 came out. Before then, this institution had been subjected to characterization without due account of territorial specificity or solely on the basis of the experience of capitals.8 In general, Russian authors, unlike the German researcher, do not tend to absolutize the pre-industrial nature of the post-reform domestic hired labor, paying attention to the fact that patriarchal relations imply not only hard exploitation of servants by their masters, but also the responsibility of the latter for the former, which was increasingly infrequently the case in modernizing Russia.9 As it can be seen, the research on the social group in question is only at its start... The proposed article analyzes the status of female domestic servants, which implied not only their extremely powerless position in the master’s house, but the exact opposite position, under certain circumstances related both to personal qualities of specific people and to objective conditions caused by the realities of post-reform Russia. This implies the so-called “omnipotence” of servants, which the post-reform press constantly wrote about, which scared the readers of numerous books on housekeeping and, finally, which is mentioned in most diaries of the Russian nobility, especially noblewomen. The ‘humiliated and insulted’ woman If one asks who can be called the most browbeaten creature in post-reform Russia, who used to work without rest or a single minute of free time for 20 hours a day, who was constantly subjected to various forms of humiliation, from endless verbal insults to real rape, the answer which naturally suggests itself is, of course, the female domestic servant. The fact that this is indeed the case can be confirmed by materials of court proceedings and medical examinations, by the information from housekeeping manuals and private household registers. Finally, similar facts are reflected, although not directly, but quite obviously, in diaries of the masters themselves, who had female domestic workers. It is not without a reason that even prostitutes had pity for maidservants because of the rightlessness of the latter. Almost half of those prostitutes knew what female domestic workers were talking about not by hearsay, since the former had switched to their job due to the inability to bear the backbreaking work and faultfinding when serving the master’s family.10 Thus, Elsa, the heroine of the story The Pit by A.I. Kuprin, talked about the maid’s labor as follows: “Imagine how humiliating it is to be a servant in the house, to always depend on the whim or the mood of the masters! The master is always pestering you with silly things. And the mistress is jealous, nagging and scolding.” 11 A detailed list of what masters were entitled to demand from their domestic servants was contained in the relevant sections of manuals on the organization and keeping of the household. It is distinctive that, despite the cardinal changes that occurred in Russian society following the abolition of serfdom, this list only changed in its form, remaining essentially unchanged in essence. Here are a few excerpts from the pre-reform manual for masters, published in 1858: “You have the right to demand: 1) that at any time, even on holidays, they do not leave the house without your permission; 2) that they be modest, quiet, polite, and that they do not allow themselves to quarrel, just like everyone else, that they do not burden you with complaints about each other and do not let any arbitrariness happen; 3) that they do not tell anything related to family matters to strangers; 4) that they have no acquaintance with people of bad behavior; 5) that they not only avoid indulging in any vices, but also that they do not remain idle during rest; the best thing at this time is forcing them to do something for themselves, or to do some light work; and 6) that they fulfill the duties of a Christian, go to church, pray to God, and that, if they are literate, they read prayers, or some moral book.”12 This was followed by a more detailed elaboration on these items. E.g., the section Guidelines regarding the exercise of daily service in the household contained, among other things, the following provisions: “If the master or mistress, or any member of the family, asks the servant [T.N. - from this point on: Rus. служитель, masc.] about something, he must never answer simply yes or no, but always add: just so, sir; no way, madam. When addressing persons having a princely or earl’s title, he is obliged to add the name of the title; e.g., just so, your Excellency, etc. When talking to the masters or to guests visiting them, he must address them in the 2nd and 3rd person plural, e.g.: what would You [T.N. - 2nd person pl., the formal you] like? would they like? etc. Only if necessary, the servant may be the first to start speaking with the masters. When talked to, the servant must stand and respond respectfully... If reprimanded by the master, the servant must not respond rudely or impatiently...”13 Surprisingly, the manual that came out 30 years later is somewhat less flowery, but in essence, it LITERALLY! repeats the above-cited section from a housekeeping book of the period of serfdom: “If asked about something by the master or mistress, or by one of the family members, the servant [T.N. - from this point on: Rus. прислуга, fem.] must never answer simply yes or no, but she must always add: sir, lady, young lady. Addressing persons with a princely or earl’s title, the servant is obliged to add the name of the title, e.g., just so, your Excellency, etc. When talking to their masters or to guests visiting them, the servant must address them in the 2nd or 3rd person plural, e.g. what would You [T.N. - 2nd person pl., the formal you] like? would they like? etc. When talked to, she must respond respectfully. If reprimanded by the master, the servant must not respond to him rudely or impatiently. The servant must never seat in the presence of her masters.”14 Perhaps, the only fundamental difference between these two documents lies in the common name for the person in service. Whereas the earlier text used the Russian masculine form of the word servant and the pronoun he, in the new reality the generalized name for servant was used, referred to as she. Such changes in the language reflected the real situation - a huge imbalance in the number of women over men in the domestic workforce, which was the result of attempts by the masters to reduce family expenditures by abandoning the more expensive male labor force.15 Designed in 1910, but not yet turned into law, the draft Provisions on the Hiring of Domestic Servants contained a simple list of measures assigned to domestic workers. To have an idea of the level of the workload of a female servant, especially in the cases where she worked alone in the masters’ home, it is enough to become familiar with the list of her functions provided in this document. The list of chores for domestic servants included the following: “all the work about the house, yard, garden, indicated in the hirer’s household schedule, as well as work outside the household related to meeting vital needs, and also looking after... domestic animals, and overseeing the safety of the master’s property.” Household services also included taking care of the masters and their family members, as well as their guests or visitors.16 Attempts to charge one person with all this work led to quite obvious consequences, the descriptions of which were abundant in the print media of the early 20th century. Below is a typical example of the duties of the only servant of a mistress who lived off renting rooms in the suburbs of St. Petersburg (it should be noted that this list fits well with the requirement of the draft law). The maid had to “turn the cow to pasture at around 3 o’clock in the morning, clean the barn, go to the store for provisions, clean the rooms, heat the samovar, clean the clothes of the masters and the tenants, make breakfast and lunch and do laundry”. It is not surprising that after a summer of endless labor, the 20-year-old maid asked to be dismissed and, “having rouged her cheeks”, went out onto Nevsky Prospect.17 The fact that such a working day seemed quite normal not only to the drafters of the hiring project, but also to the masters, who assumed that all of the above was doable and that the maidservant’s shortcomings were only due to her laziness and lack of skill, is reflected in masters’ diaries. E.g., it was only after one of the guests had drawn the attention of the “best” daughter of Senator Zarudny to the fact that their poor servant “simply could not endure all sorts of necessary and unnecessary errands, changeable and capricious orders, shouts, displeasure, etc.” that the liberal maiden suddenly saw what was quietly and imperceptibly going on in front of her every day. Ulyasha “goes to bed after everyone else, because she must clean up after the teatime, wash the dishes, put the children and the young ladies to sleep, and in the morning, at 2-3 o’clock, she must already be on the move to make coffee for dad, clean the rooms and make all the necessary preparations for the young ladies before they wake up. Then she keeps running all day making breakfasts and dinners... and she does not have a single minute for a rest! And by the evening, everyone is still displeased with her: you did not come when I called you! You did not sew on a button for me!” 18 Oftentimes, this was also accompanied by moral and physical harassment by the masters and their children, as well as sexual harassment. The maid was harassed “both at home and on the street. At home - by the master himself, by his grown-up son, by the teacher, by the guests, and finally, by the likes of her - the lackey, the coachman, and the janitor. They send her to the shop - the clerk harasses her; they send her to post a letter - the passers-by do.”19 The early XX century press regularly published reports about harmed female servants. Here is an example of such a report that was published in the Russkoye Slovo newspaper in 1909: “Last night, the Novovileisk junior inspector Sidorchuk tried to rape the 16-year-old girl Anna Vasilchuk living with him as a maidservant. The poor girl pulled away and ran off. When the next day she requested her passport back, the master put the note unreliable on it. The case has been transferred to the court investigator.”20 Therefore, in the post-reform period, the masters tried to apply the covenants developed during the era of serfdom to their female domestic servants, seeking to see the maid as a mute being ready to carry out a gigantic amount of work for a small reward, while silently enduring insults and sexual slavery. At the same time, the masters’ dreams were destroyed by the reality, which very often had nothing to do with the above-described image of a “humiliated and insulted” maidservant. “...the question of female servants has long been a ‘cursed’ one for us” It is for diverse reasons that the significant and constantly growing category of female servants, who, in the opinion of others, were notorious for their “rude and foolish character”, allowed themselves to show an extremely familiar attitude not only towards the masters, but also towards the guests of the latter, defiantly neglected their duties, and constantly extorted and often simply stole money from their masters, emerged in post-reform Russia. These reasons reflect the specifics of the Russian socio-economic structure, which fancifully combined features of traditionalism and modernization. To a certain extent, such characters (although not so odious and much less common) could be encountered even in the pre-reform period. No wonder that in the late 1850s, a public discussion of the relations between masters and their female domestic workers was developed (but never ended in any way) on the pages of the periodical press. The discussion was initiated by displeased hirers, angrily asking on the newspaper pages: “Who are our hired servants?” They then proceeded with answering their own question by saying that the servants were “crowds of revelers (both men and women) who come to your household not to serve you, but to eat and drink at your expense, to deceive and, finally, to rob you. Even this would not be a big trouble, but the trouble is that they often get away with impunity... They are a pack of riffraff, who will drink away somewhere else what they earned from you; who neither plow nor sow, but live like fowls of the air, without thinking about tomorrow...”21 However, such unequivocal judgements were met with a rebuff by “advocates of domestic servants”, part of whom referred to the plight of the latter, while others drew attention to the responsibility of the hirers themselves, linking the behavior of servants with the legacy of the passing era. Thus, the author of the article, published in Ekonomichesky Ukazatel on April 25, 1859, stated bluntly that “...those who hope to improve one part of society without improving the other - to eradicate depravity in hired servants, while hirers themselves often distract them from virtue by their own example - are wrong... The masters, who are spoiled by serfdom, often forget that it is not people that are hired, but their labor, and that labor is of a certain kind; and then a coachman is required to perform the services of a stoker or a lackey, and a kitchen maid is expected to work as a nanny, etc. This is not clearly set out during the hiring process, and after that, the masters are surprised that their orders are not executed and that they are treated rudely!”22 It was already after the peasant reform, in 1864, that an article about hiring servants was published in Izvestiya Sankt-Peterburgskoy Gorodskoy Dumy. It said that in one of the reports by the Duma’s commissions, there were statements about unscrupulous and vicious domestic servants. The author expressed the opinion that the social group of domestic servants had been formed under circumstances unfavorable for its moral development and material well-being. This group had been formed mainly from the former “house serfs”. “Separated from their families and from their primitive condition of farmers, these people had come to serve as serfs, whose moral development was not watched by anyone. The class of house serfs had lived through centuries in this state, and since nothing had been prompting them to industriousness, and sober and honest life, the consequence was the spread in their community of all kinds of vices that the class of the former house serfs is now so rich in.”23 Thus, it was assumed that the new Russia, which had given up slavery, would see the prevalence of decent assessment of every honest work, the mutual interest of workers and hirers and, consequently, the establishment of completely normal relations between masters and domestic workers; along with the disappearance of the parasite-like house serfs, on the one hand, and of the feudal psychology of the nobility, on the other hand. In reality, even in the new conditions, having transferred mutual contacts to buying and selling, and hiring relations, the noble intelligentsia, at the same time, expected personal devotion, love, and voluntary help from servants, and were very indignant that they had to deal with the “hired man”.24 In this regard, one would think that there was really no “omnipotence” of the female domestic servant. Simply demanding too much from the maid, and faced with the inability to get what they wanted, the masters interpreted any attempt of excuse as rudeness, and any work that remained unfulfilled for objective reasons as conscious laziness and sabotage. Moreover, it is primarily on pages of the masters’ diaries and memoirs that servants are portrayed in an extremely negative way. It is quite possible that in some cases, this was exactly what happened ... At the same time, it is impossible to overlook several tendencies in the organization of domestic work which are, at first glance, mutually exclusive: significant supply combined with constant unsatisfied demand and surprisingly high levels of personnel turnover. At the beginning of the 20th century, large cities of Russia saw the emergence of intermediary offices - private, public (charity), and those existing at the expense of cities. The statistics of these institutions created a certain idea of the number of persons who looked for housekeeping jobs only with the help of such offices. In St. Petersburg, the city intermediary office began to operate on August 1, 1901.25 It was already at the end of September that Sankt-Peterburgskie Vedomosti noted its “visible development” and the constant increase in the number of clients. “At least 100 hirers are recorded daily. The total number of deals made within two months reaches 3,200. More than 7,500 applications from those seeking jobs and offering them have been registered during this period. Female job-seekers prevail among those hired; men (janitors and doorkeepers) make up 15%.”26 In Moscow, it was private offices that had the greatest importance in the matter of domestic hired labor. During the one-year period from November 1, 1902 to November 1, 1903, 12,666 domestic servants sought jobs through these institutions, of whom 1,384 were men are men and 11,282 were women.27 In 1905, the Warsaw Charitable Society published statistical data on the supply and demand regarding domestic hired labor in Warsaw for the preceding year. It is noteworthy that the number of candidates who were looking for work as domestic servants - 3,084 - turned out to be less than the number of jobs available for candidates - 4,550. However, the number of jobs taken by suitable candidates - 1,514 - was twice as low as the number of those who offered their services, and 2.5 times as low as the number of available vacancies. The authors of the study themselves explained this phenomenon by the fact that the majority of the “candidates were unprepared for the positions that they wanted to get.”28 Basically, the latter statement explains the main reason for the above-noted combination of constantly unsatisfied demand against the background of gigantic supply. The job of a domestic servant was considered uncomplicated, the majority of those who were hired believed that it was possible to learn on the spot, therefore, a huge number of peasant women who arrived in cities tried to get this kind of job. However, women who were not adjusted to urban life and to servant duties were unable to satisfy even the elementary demands of employers. Peasant women did not know how to behave in the house and on the street, they did not know how to take care of household items and clothes, often causing them irreparable damage29; finally, there were unable to cook even the “simplest” urban dinner.30 It was these slouches who were ready to tolerate any humiliation, as long as they were hired and kept in the service. However, a few years later, the necessary skills were acquired, and those girls who had managed to endure several years of torment, developed the ability to survive in the wildest conditions, adapted to the scolding and sexual harassment, - in general, those who had “passed that stage”, could already be considered “refined, claiming to be experienced.”31 Thus, experience in this field meant not only, and perhaps not so much, the actual necessary knowledge in a particular area of domestic work, as the ability to “survive”,32 which implied self-defense skills, at least in the form of rude response, ways of earning additional income (through extortion and/or petty theft), and, finally, the ability to “relax”, very often manifested in the form of excessive drinking. Therefore, the masters who made the decision to hire a servant were faced with an almost insoluble problem: either to hire a quiet village girl, ready to do all the work for the smallest payment, but completely incapable, or to hire an experienced specialist, fitted with impudence, the ability to gain profit at the masters’ expense in different ways, and, perhaps, also having immoral behavior, - for much more money. In the first case, it was necessary to control every step of the unskillful servant, be ready to end up with an inedible dinner, spoiled clothes, broken dishes, etc. In the second case, it was also impossible to give up control, since otherwise, significant family funds could resurface into the pocket of the experienced maid, and all unchecked work risked to remain undone. By any measure, maidservants caused families a lot of problems, inconveniences and additional expenses. This created a vicious circle: as a result of the search of another “good option”, a new maid appeared in the household, who soon either turned out to be “completely inappropriate” or left the masters herself due to being dissatisfied with the conditions. The average tenure of maidservants in the same family, as a rule, did not exceed several months,33 and both participants of the hiring process were again faced with the need to find a “good option”. “And they will tell me that all people are equal!” Numerous housekeeping manuals strongly recommended that the masters hire unskillful, but “honest and decent” people, refusing experienced, but rude and thieving drunkards. Authors of such publications constantly reminded their readers that they should not expect “...to get a good servant, like a product from a store, with a guarantee, completely ready - turn her on and there she goes”. After all, “servants are also people, not machines”. And instead of relying on “certificates, bureaus and references”, the masters themselves should take care of the education of their servants, above all, their moral education.34 Some, indeed, preferred such an option. Moreover, an important factor here was not only the “quietness” and “spiritual health” of peasant girls who moved to cities, but also the cheapness of their services. The young girl Pronya, brought by the masters from the village to the capital, caused a whole bunch of problems to the household of the General staff officer I. Menitsky. In her memoirs, the officer’s wife, O. Menitskaya, devotes a few pages to her and to the misadventures caused by her behavior: “She was a true illiterate village girl, a sullen goose, but hard-working, uncomplaining, passive, like a windup doll. I tried to teach her to read and write, but unsuccessfully. She would put together alphabet blocks, and most of all she liked to spell “s k u r t” by pointing her finger into space. She hesitated to get on the train, and kept jumping back all the time. I had to kick her in the butt with my knee while holding a child in my arms so that she could finally get on. When on the train, she was holding her things with both hands, afraid to put them on the bench. We had a hard time teaching her to go outside and to the shop, since she was so scared of everything and everyone. She was like the second child, barely flexible. She would take us with her to the bath-house and wash us herself. A true primitive person. It was evident that she missed the village and the people of her society... She was always dissatisfied, hungry, because she did not like the master’s food...”. Despite all these shortcomings, the masters were in no hurry to dismiss her. Apparently, the main incentive for this was the fact that she received only 4 rubles per month,35 while in the 1890s, the salary of a village slouch in St. Petersburg was at least 6 rubles. In general, attempts to teach their servants to read and write, or even engage them in school curriculum, were frequent with the intellectual class. However, the reasons for this sometimes had nothing to do with the desire to do a favor to the girl herself. Thus, e.g., R. Sementkovsky, who in the early 1870s wrote his dissertation on the possibility and importance of providing women with the same education as men, decided to check its provisions on the 13-year-old illiterate girl who served as his maid. He began to teach her in his spare time and covered a significant part of the men’s classical gymnasium curriculum with her. But apparently, the student was not particularly grateful to the teacher for the unexpected knowledge that fell on her. At least, the author finished this part of his recollections with the following rather obscure sentence: “But in the end, she caused me a major disappointment, softened only by the awareness of the duty performed, the pleasure that the search of truth can bring a person, and finally, the sympathy of respected people.”36 But not all the masters were ready to burden themselves with another child embodied in a servant, preferring to have an experienced worker instead. As a rule, hirers understood that, most likely, they would have to deal with a “person with an attitude”, but hoped to “please” their servant with presents. It was already in the pre-reform era that the custom of giving presents to servants on big holidays “almost turned into a cast-iron rule.”37 And it was not only hired servants, but also serfs who were given presents, which could be both things and money. Thus, e.g., in honor of the wedding of Prince Kropotkin’s eldest daughter Elena Alekseevna, the newlyweds had to bestow the house serfs with a considerable sum of money. Moreover, on the eve of their departure, the spouses had a long discussion about how much to give until they agreed that “the house serfs are... numerous; it was impossible to give less than 15 rubles.”38 In the post-reform time, there was no possibility of giving presents only to experienced servants on major holidays. Hoping for kindness in response, the masters incessantly presented specialists who knew their worth with small gifts or gave them their old dresses, underwear or shoes. Oftentimes, the maids not only failed to thank the masters, but, as predicted by authors of housekeeping manuals, took “such presents for granted” and began to demand them.39 In turn, the masters, who had expected a completely different reaction, could not understand such impudence. This is how O. Bazankur described her feelings in her diary: “Problems with servants have begun! The better you treat them, the closer, the tenderer you are to them, the worse it gets. Today, after I gave Annushka some chintz when paying her salary, I sent her to the theater - she has completely lost her mind due to stupidity and anger... Yesterday she literally started screaming at me. Tomorrow I will give her an ultimatum: either she behaves herself decently, or gets the hell out of here... It is not the facts themselves that are annoying, but the matter of having to deal with them... Such a young girl - and so much arrogance and anger! And they will tell me that all people are equal! They will never be... And mine is also incredibly stupid, she does everything without thinking at all and without knowing what she is doing, and therefore, everything goes bad and rotten.” 40 It was not endless showering with presents that housekeeping books considered a truly reliable means of maintaining home order, but properly organized communication with servants. It was supposed to be, on the one hand, “amiable, however, at the same time, not derogatory to one’s own dignity”. One was advised to avoid “all familiarity” and to “never call the servant a diminutive name”. In particular, it was recommended not to “initiate an argument with the maid” and noted that “it would be best to refuse her the position without further trouble.” 41 An analysis of diaries of the nobility shows that in real life, only “diminutive names” were used to call a servant. The pages of these documents feature an endless list of Nastyonas, Marusyas, Glashas, etc. Moreover, certain masters were willing to put up with the familiarity of the maidservants and even to consider them “nice”, if the maidservant had not been caught in any other serious crime. Thus, in her diary, O. Yafa with obvious sympathy mentioned the “good-natured fat” maid Masha, who was “on first-name terms with everyone”, and who publicly and without hesitation called the student who came to their house as a guest the “groom-to-be” of the master’s daughter, which obviously made the young lady feel embarrassed.42 And indeed, amid obvious cheating, even a slight familiarity on the part of the housemaid could seem very pretty... After serving for several years, the maid came to the conclusion that the size of her official salary could not, and should not, determine her level of welfare. It is not without reason that many of the maidservants who were hired, immediately stipulated the right to make certain purchases not using the “book” from the shop, but for “real” money. The owners, in turn, were also aware of the possibility of cheating on the part of maids. In his feuilleton A Maid from the Office, N. Leykin in a humorous form demonstrated the maids’ attempts to secure themselves an additional income, and the masters’ efforts to deprive the servants of such an opportunity. E.g., this is how he described the hiring of a kitchen maid: “... - You must count on the salary. If you are willing to live on our salary, stay with us, if not, you don’t have to. ... - But sir, it is impossible for a kitchen maid to live without side work. After all, this is why we work at other people’s places. Otherwise, we would be living in the country... Making twelve rubles in salary, one cannot save a lot. The butcher pays us a little, the shopkeeper does, the fisherman does, the greengrocer does... ...One more thing, I forgot to ask the most important question. It is, of course, me, who will be buying provisions, isn’t it? - Yes, yes... We pay by book at the butcher’s, at the greengrocer’s, you will be also paying by book at the junk shop. - By bo-ok? the cook asked in disappointment and shook her head, - I don’t like living in such places where I need to pay by book. - Well, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to... - You want to have a kitchen maid for a cook, and you will be paying twelve rubles, you will be paying for provisions yourselves according to the book, and you have also put scales in the kitchen to check on me. No, this is not the right place!”43 Thus, having hired an “experienced” maid, one option was to be prepared for constant “home wars”, when “...either the kitchen maid had a fit of hard drinking, and the laundress proved to be light-fingered and had to be dismissed; or the maid was rude and left the house without asking...”44 The other option was to entrust oneself “completely to a Masha, a Glasha, a Polya”, to let the “headstrong woman” do whatever she wants, to accept the fact that she “is sometimes naughty, is constantly cheating, wears the mistress’s underwear...”45 In the struggle for their rights... The post-reform time was marked not only by the widespread “home wars” as a way for the maidservants to create acceptable living conditions for themselves. The growth of the education and awareness of peasant women, their increasing familiarity with judicial institutions, and even certain skills of protecting their rights in volost courts46, and, finally, the experience of living in the city, contributed to the appearance of maids who were ready to carry their problems to court. Of course, cases where the owners were found guilty by the court were rather an exception, but the fact that such reports appeared in the press gave servants hope to win the trial or, at least, to get money from the masters for the damage suffered. Thus, a lot of noise was caused by the “great curiosity” that happened to a “very respectable person” who had hired a kitchen maid who was always rude to her. One day, the lady, holding an empty plate in her hands, made a remark to the maid, to which the latter responded rudely. The mistress “lost patience, dropped the plate on the floor and a broken off piece injured the kitchen maid’s face; the latter then started a lawsuit against the mistress. The mistress was facing a scandalous process in the district court, and she had to reconcile with the kitchen maid by paying her a sum of money.”47 In February 1912, the newspaper Trudovaya Kopeika published an even more surprising story, when a servant accused her mistress of theft. The young woman hired by a “young and progressive family (a student couple) served properly” she was presented with gifts and praises. But after the neighbor’s maid had “enlightened” the mistress by saying that the servant of the latter was allegedly gossiping and speaking badly about the mistress, the relations in the household deteriorated. “In a tide of indignation, the girl student broke the chest of her maid open, took the gifts and gave them to the informer. And the magistrate charged the mistress with theft. This is how he addressed her and the maid during the trial: “You thieves, you both stand next to me!” The girl student fainted with shame.”48 An important indicator of the growth of female domestic servants’ self-awareness and their understanding of the need for special structures that could guarantee the rights of maidservants and, at least partially, assist them in the absence of work, was the appearance of the first professional organizations at the beginning of the new century. It was already in the 1870s that artels uniting male servants began to emerge.49 By the beginning of the 20th century - the time of the emergence of the first women’s associations - the number of male institutions of this kind was measured in dozens only in the capital.50 This was largely due to the fact that while female servants continued to do domestic work, male servants marked the beginning of the service sector by forming a new branch of social production. The main tasks of the associations were “improving the life of female domestic servants, seeking jobs for them”, as well as providing assistance in the event of illness or disability. The funds of the society formed by contributions from members, who were mainly maidservants themselves, were used to create shelters for sick and elderly members of the society, to provide benefits for those who had lost their jobs, to opened classes for teaching “various crafts”, the knowledge of which increased the chances of employment for women.51 The availability of such organizations, as well as the activities of the Houses of industriousness52 and other charitable organizations which guaranteed shelter to jobless maidservants, made them more self-confident, ready to boldly respond to the masters’ claims and to easily break workplace relationships, if the conditions seemed inappropriate. Conclusions Female domestic servants occupied, perhaps, one of the lowest levels in the country’s social hierarchy. The work of the maidservant was not standardized or limited, there were no guarantees from the hirers, both in terms of working conditions and in case of dismissal or disability. The situation of maidservants was seriously worsened everywhere by sexual harassment and abuse, which the maids had very little opportunity to resist. Despite the extremely unfavorable living conditions in the masters’ house, thousands of village girls seeking happiness came to work in the city each year. The overwhelming majority of them considered themselves fully prepared to work as servants, since, having done household chores since childhood, they did not think that they needed any special skills to perform those duties. In reality, the whole old way of life of village girls, starting from the way of communicating and having a sense of direction, and ending with eating habits and attitudes towards cleanliness, contradicted the expectations of the masters. Making endless mistakes, the peasant slouch learned to live, letting insults go by, enduring harassment, working to the point of exhaustion, only in order not to be kicked out. But it was far from always that the masters were ready to spend their effort on training the maidservant and exercising constant control over her. It was a pity to put the property at risk by committing it to inexperienced hands. And no matter how ready the girl was to endure all the trials that fell to her lot, she often found herself on the street, subjected to its influence and the help of more experienced companions. Many of those who had lost their jobs, and never found another one, or no longer had the power to carry on, acquired a “yellow ticket”. As for the masters, they started an endless search for a skilled servant... This formed the controversial realities of the labor market of female domestic servants - a gigantic and continuously growing supply, a significant unsatisfied demand and a constant turnover of personnel. At the same time, those girls who had been able to endure several years of torment, acquired not only professional skills, but got accustomed to living in the city, using their position to earn money, protecting themselves from encroachment, or using their attractiveness as a weapon. And the more experienced, in all senses, the maid was, the less determined she was to obey her masters, gradually becoming a “headstrong woman” in the master’s house. Of course, the masters could kick her out, but who would they hire in return? In the end, the choice was reduced to two options - a docile slouch and a foolish, thievish specialist. As the consequences of the Great Reforms interweaved into the everyday life of representatives of the most diverse social groups, there was a growing increase in the proportion of female rural youth who, having learned to read and write only after their arrival in the city, were not ready to silently put up with storms of abuse. Knowing, at least through the grapevine, about the existence of judicial institutions, about some successful examples of “victories” of maidservants over their masters in these institutions, they could, indeed, try to appeal to them or at least threaten their masters with a lawsuit. The appearance of the first professional organizations of female servants, as well as the expanding activities of various charitable institutions that guaranteed the maids assistance in obtaining the necessary skills and employment, further stimulated the maidservants to protect their rights, which forced the owners to either take into account the interests of the former or try to do without them.

Valentina A Veremenko

A.S. Pushkin Leningrad State University

Author for correspondence.
Email: v.a.veremenko@yandex.ru
10, Peterburgskoye shosse, Pushkin, St. Petersburg, 196605, Russia

Doctor of History, Professor, Head of the Department of Russian History of Leningrad State University, A.S. Pushkin. Editor-in-Chief of History of Everyday Life.

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