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Housekeepers and Maids

History

The work of maids, housekeepers, and other household staff has been immortalized in PBS shows such as Upstairs, Downstairs (1971–1975 and 2010–2012) and Downton Abbey (2010–2015), which depict life among the British aristocracy and their servants in the first half of the 20th century. But domestic servants—often slaves, serfs, or indentured servants—have served wealthy people since the time of the ancient Greeks, Romans, and other early civilizations.

Domestic service as an occupation reached its zenith during the Victorian Era (1937–1901) in England. In the United States, the number of domestic workers also increased during this period and continued to grow into the early 1900s as a result of the burgeoning middle class, the continuing demand for servants by the upper class, and the steady waves of immigrants who could not find any other employment except in domestic service.

Since the 1920s, the number of domestic workers has declined as a result of the introduction of labor-saving devices, increasing employment opportunities for women, the levelling of social classes, and negative social stigmas attached to domestic work. Despite these trends, the domestic services remain a large field, and there will always be upper- and middle-class families who need the services of maids, housekeepers, and other domestic workers.