World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article


Article Id: WHEBN0000813075
Reproduction Date:

Title: Maid  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Handmaiden, Alcestis (play), The Edwardian Country House, Jellia Jamb, Stanley Clarke (businessman)
Collection: Domestic Work, Home Economics, Maids
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Smedley maid illustration 1906
A Lady's maid, by Raimundo Madrazo c. 1890-1900
A maid cleaning in Denmark in 1912.

A maid, or housemaid or maidservant, is a female person employed in domestic service. Although now usually found only in the most wealthy of households, in the Victorian era domestic service was the second largest category of employment in England and Wales, after agricultural work.[1]


  • Description 1
  • Types of maid 2
  • In popular culture 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6


Once part of an elaborate hierarchy in great houses, today a single maid may be the only domestic worker that upper and even middle-income households can afford, as was historically the case for many households. In the contemporary Western world, comparatively few households can afford live-in domestic help, usually compromising on periodic cleaners. In less developed nations, very large differences in the income of urban and rural households and between different socio-economic classes, fewer educated women and limited opportunities for working women ensures a labour source for domestic work.

Historically many maids suffered from Prepatellar bursitis, an inflammation of the Prepatellar bursa caused by long periods spent on the knees for purposes of scrubbing and fire-lighting, leading to the condition attracting the colloquial name of "Housemaid's Knee".[2]

Maids perform typical domestic chores such as cooking, ironing, washing, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, walking the family dog, and taking care of children. In many places in some poor countries, maids often take on the role of a nurse in taking care of the elderly and people with disabilities. Many maids are required by their employers to wear a uniform.

Legislation in many countries makes certain living conditions, working hours, or minimum wages a requirement of domestic service. Nonetheless, the work of a maid has always been hard, involving a full day, and extensive duties.[3]

The word "maid" itself is short for "maiden", meaning "virgin". In great houses of England, domestic workers, particularly those low in the hierarchy, such as maids and footmen, were expected to remain unmarried while in service,[4][5] and even highest-ranking workers such as butlers could be fired for marrying.[6]

Types of maid

Goan serving maid, 1880s

Maids traditionally have a fixed position in the hierarchy of the large households, and although there is overlap between definitions (dependent on the size of the household) the positions themselves would typically be rigidly adhered to. The usual classifications of maid in a large household are:

  • Lady's maid — a senior servant who reported directly to the lady of the house, but ranked beneath the Housekeeper, and accompanied her lady on travel.
  • House-maid or housemaid — a generic term for maids whose function was chiefly 'above stairs', and were usually a little older, and better paid. Where a household included multiple House Maids they were often sub-divided as below.
    • Head house-maid — the senior house maid, reporting to the Housekeeper. (Also called "House parlour maid" in an establishment with only one or two upstairs maids).
    • Parlour maid — the parlour maids cleaned and tidied reception rooms and living areas by morning, and often served refreshments at afternoon tea, and sometimes also dinner. They tidied studies and libraries, and (with footmen) answered bells calling for service.[7]
    • Chamber maid — the chamber maids cleaned and maintained the bedrooms, ensured fires were lit in fireplaces, and supplied hot water.
    • Laundry maid — the laundry maids maintained bedding and towels. They also washed, dried, and ironed clothes for the whole household, including the servants.
    • Under house parlour maid — the general deputy to the house parlour maid in a small establishment which had only two upstairs maids.
  • Nursery maid — also an 'upstairs maid', but one who worked in the children's nursery, maintaining fires, cleanliness, and good order. Reported to the Nanny rather than the Housekeeper.
  • Kitchen maid — a 'below stairs' maid who reported to the Cook, and assisted in running the kitchens.
    • Head kitchen maid — where multiple kitchen maids were employed, the "Head kitchen maid" was effectively a deputy to the Cook, engaged largely in the plainer and simpler cooking (sometimes cooking the servants' meals).
    • Under kitchen maid — where multiple kitchen maids were employed these were the staff who prepared vegetables, peeled potatoes, and assisted in presentation of finished cooking for serving.
  • Scullery maid — the lowest grade of 'below stairs' maid, reporting to the Cook, the Scullery Maids were responsible for washing cutlery, crockery, and glassware, and scrubbing kitchen floors, as well as monitoring ovens while Kitchen Maids ate their own supper.[8]
  • Between maid — roughly equivalent in status to scullery maids, and often paid less, the Between Maids in a large household waited on the senior servants (Butler, Housekeeper, Cook) and were therefore answerable to all three department heads, often leading to friction in their employment.[9]
  • Still room maid — a junior maid employed in the still room; as the work involved the supply of alcohol, cosmetics, medicines, and cooking ingredients across all departments of the house, the still room maids were part of the 'between staff', jointly answerable to all three department heads, Butler, Housekeeper, and Cook.

In more modest households a single Maid-of-all-work or skivvy was often the only staff. It is possible this word originates from the Italian for slave (schiavo - owned person).

In popular culture

One of the most in-depth and enduring representations of the lives of several types of maid was seen in the 1970s television drama Upstairs, Downstairs, set in England between 1903 and 1936. Another representation of the lives of maids is seen nowadays in Downton Abbey, set in England between 1912 and 1922.

See also


  1. ^ "Occupations: census returns for 1851, 1861 and 1871". 
  2. ^ "Housemaid's Knee (Prepatellar Bursitis)". 
  3. ^ The Duties of the Maid-Servants in the Wealthy Homes
  4. ^ David Hume, Essay XI
  5. ^ Thomas Malthus, An Essay on the Principle of Population, p.139
  6. ^ "'"Downstairs at Downton: How the real servants worked 14-hour days and the maids were confined to 'virgin quarters. 
  7. ^ A Parlour Maid's timetable is summarised in this webpage extract from a book.
  8. ^ "Victorian Life Style". 
  9. ^ "". 

External links

  • Media related to at Wikimedia Commons
  • The dictionary definition of maid at Wiktionary
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.