Spanking the Maid


maid victorianMany years ago I saw a beautiful graphic portrait from the 1950s. It was of a very smart looking aristocratic woman with a young maid across her knee giving her a spanking. The drawing was within an otherwise vanilla collection and no particular attention was drawn to this image as if it was quite commonplace.

I have not seen this image since, but I do remember the caption was simply ‘spanking the maid.’

Now I have posted on this topic before but every now and then I chance on something I haven’t seen or don’t remember seeing before. This time I found some interesting articles on Google Reader.

This incomplete snippet was taken from Woman’s Weekly in 1911 was supplied under the heading ‘domestic discipline.’

Do you still spank your servant girls? Many perfectly sound housekeepers still do, although the practice seems to be in decline. Professional agencies have suggested that the decline is down to modern thinking and the growing shortage of girls willing to enter service in the first place.

The Modern Woman’s Guide to Good Housekeeping says that spanking of girls over 21 is very much a thing of the past and good servants will expect better conditions than previous generations.

Your grandmothers probably had girls in their house who had begun their service at aged 14 or 15 and who were treated as part of the family. But this way of things is sadly in decline and modern women are more inclined to move on or even get married younger.

In 1883, the Domestic Gazette, suggested that “birching your maid is decidedly old hat, and not to mention barbaric. If one has a girl in their house needful of such harsh treatment, then this humbler reporter is of the opinion that you might consider seeking a new maid.”

However, unlike the later article there is no doubt that maids needed punishing as the article goes on to say, “if your maid needs corporal chastisement then might this writer suggest that a good old-fashioned slipper applied to the naked posterior is quite effective enough. Or for the older more recalcitrant girl that one applies a patent leather strap to the same place.”

I particularly like an advertisement form an even earlier date that ran the legend ‘Domestic Trouble?’ above a crude line drawing of a nervous young maid and went on to offer: “Whips, crops, rods of all sizes for those difficult servants.”

No doubt the reality of this employee abuse was rather grim, but I chose to remember that drawing I saw of the 1950s maid and the romantic fantasies it conjures up.

3 Responses to “Spanking the Maid”

  1. 1 nikolaikaa

    I’ve often wondered how much abuse there was in these arrangements. Sure we have the documented abuses. With little outside protection and we do have the documented “scandals” of historical abuse.

    However, even the widespread and long practiced English tradition of packing children off at an early age to others for their education/training.

    Professor Alan Macfarlane described it as such:
    Secondly it was a powerful process because education outside the home started very early in life. As we have seen, from eight or nine, the poor became servants or labourers for others, the slightly richer were apprentices, the middle classes went to grammar or public schools, the very richest were taken in as pages in upper class houses.

    Given there are stories and dramas highlighting abuse in each of these situations to some poor servant, apprentice or student, are we to assume that the majority suffered abuse in these situations or did most of the adults take their duties to their servants, apprentices, students as a duty to protect and instruct, even though the chastisement might have been severe by today’s standards?

  2. In the early years of the 20th century my grandmother moved on her own from the country to the big city. She made her way by working for a wealthy couple basically as their servant. She really never said a lot about it except that they didn’t treat her very well. I shudder to think that anyone would ever have not treated my grandmother like a saint.

  3. I had a pen friend from France who was beautiful and a wonderful, sweet person. In the late 80’s and early 90’s she worked as a nanny of a couple of kids for a very wealthy couple in London. She would complain that they expected her to clean and cook as well as look after the children, the former two not in her job description. She never came right out and said it, but she alluded to she receiving corporal punishment from her employers. Alluded to it rather clearly.

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