domestic service

domestic service,

work performed in a household by someone who is not a member of the family. It was performed by slaves in many early civilizations, e.g., in Greece and Rome. Under the feudal system the work was done by serfs. The guild system required indentured apprentices to perform household duties while learning a trade. With the disappearance of feudalism and guilds, servants were recruited from free wage earners. Domestic service came to be regarded as an unattractive occupation because of the long hours, low wages, poor living conditions, low social status, and dependence on the personal habits of the employer. In the colonies of North America, domestic service was performed by transported convicts, bond servants who sold themselves into service for stated periods to pay their passage, Native Americans, and black slaves. After the American Revolution indentured servants were largely replaced, except in the South, by free labor. Growing numbers of upper middle-class families in the late 19th and early 20th cent. increased the demand for domestic servants, which was largely met by immigrants. Immigration quotas established in 1921 cut down this supply, and the demand for servants was subsequently reduced by the use of labor-saving devices. As the growing number of working women has created an increased need for child-care workers, many families have turned to professionals for such services. The number of domestics has declined from a peak of 2.4 million in 1940 to 795,000 in 1997. In 1950 the old-age insurance system was expanded to include household employees who were regularly employed, and in the social security amendments of 1954 old-age and survivors' insurance were extended to domestic servants regardless of work regularity. In Great Britain domestic workers are covered by national health and unemployment insurance schemes.


See D. Katzman, Seven Days a Week (1981); L. Martin, The Servant Problem (1985); P. Palmer, Domesticity and Dirt (1989).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
At first the movements about those spots were of a humble kind--those that belong to domestic service or agricultural needs--the opening of doors and windows, the sweeping and brushing, and generally the restoration of habitual order.
Rook had been previously known to Cecilia's father as respectable people keeping an inn in his own neighborhood; and, finally, how they had been obliged to begin life again in domestic service, because the terrible event of a murder had given the inn a bad name, and had driven away the customers on whose encouragement their business depended.
He carried out his intention that the only tie between them should be the domestic service she did in return for board and lodging.
There was no one to look after her, no one to save her from the charity schools and domestic service afterwards.
These people feared the result of education would be that the Negroes would leave the farms, and that it would be difficult to secure them for domestic service.
"I declare to heaven," says this strange officer solemnly, "I would take to domestic service to-morrow, Mr.
After relating the circumstances under which the writer had returned to domestic service, the narrative was resumed no more.
The man's motor was small and swift like himself; in fact, like his domestic service, it was of his own invention.
All the loves and graces seemed (her husband thought) to have taken domestic service with her, and to help her to make home engaging.
On my side, I did not shrink from beginning the slow and weary journey back again to a reputable life from the humblest starting-point--from domestic service. After first earning my new character in the Refuge, I obtained a trial in a respectable house.
Home and Hegemony: Domestic Service and identity Politics in South and Southeast Asia.
Many historians have interpreted the Irish woman's emigration to America and her work in domestic service as a liberating experience.