Domestic or menial servants were originally so called from the fact that they lived within the walls of their master's house; the word "domestic" being derived from the Latin "domus," a house, and "menial" from the Latin word "moenia," walls of a house. So long ago as the statute of Hen. IV. we find the words menials and menial gentlemen; but of late years these words have been held to denote a particular class or kind of servant, such as housekeepers, cooks, kitchenmaids, housemaids, nurses, butlers, valets, coachmen, footmen, grooms, gardeners, etc. A governess, though she live in the house, does not come under that denomination.


Domestic servants are hired by the year. The wages are payable quarterly. The master or mistress finds suitable board and lodging. The servants are bound to give up their whole time to their masters or mistresses, and to obey all their lawful orders in relation to their employment.

The master and mistress are to judge of the circumstances under which the servant's services are required, subject to this, that they are to give only lawful commands.

Servants under sixteen years of age hired from the workhouse or union. The guardians or overseers are required to keep a register of young persons under sixteen years who shall be hired or taken as servants from the workhouse or union, and to cause the relieving or other officer to visit such young persons whilst under sixteen, twice a year, and to report to them whether he has reason to believe that such young persons are not provided with necessary food, or are subjected to cruel or illegal treatment.

The hiring may be determined by either party after the expiration of one calendar month's warning. In case the master or mistress put an end to the service without such warning, they must pay the servant a calendar month's wages; but they are not bound to pay board wages, or make compensation for lodging.


Servants may be dismissed without warning for grossly immoral conduct, for wilful misappropriation of their master's or mistress's property, or for wilful disobedience.


Servants are entitled, during the continuance of the service, to receive a fourth part of their annual wages at the end of every quarter of a year from the commencement of such service.

Servants' behaviour to one another.

The happiness of servants depends in a great measure upon their kind and considerate conduct to one another.

The upper servants should not be tyrannical or exacting towards the under servants and the under servants should cheerfully follow the directions of the upper servants, who are placed in authority and are responsible to their employers for the due discharge of the duties of the under servants; and the under servants should bear in mind that, by a good course of conduct they may themselves become upper servants, with similar responsibilities.

Servants should feel that their position is one of great trust and confidence, and that they are a part of the family. They should never reveal the affairs or matters relating to the family, or with which they become acquainted by being in the famUy. They ought not to be content with being honest themselves, but should not suffer or permit dishonesty in others. In case of theft, or suspicion of theft, they should afford every facility to their employers for the discovery of the offender; for such a course will not only remove suspicion from themselves, but often lead to the detection of the offender, and so fix the real culprit with the guilt.

Servants may advantageously bear in mind the proverb, "that a rolling stone gathers no moss;" for those servants who frequently change their places, cannot expect their employers to take that lively interest in their welfare which is felt towards those who have long and faithfully served them.

Rights, Duties, and Relations of Domestic Servants, T. Henet Batlis, M.A., Barrister-at-Lat, 1857

The number of men-servants in a family varies according to the wealth and position of the master, from the owner of the ducal mansion, with a retinue of attendants, at the head of which is the chamberlain and house-steward, to the occupier of the house, where a single footman is the only male retainer.

To a certain extent the number of men-servants kept is regulated by the number of women-servants, this statement, of course, not applying to such out-door servants as coachman, groom, or gardener.

Occasionally a parlour-maid is kept instead of a second footman, or a kitchen or scullery-maid does the work in the way of boot-cleaning, etc., that would fall to a third footman or page. A man cook is now more rarely to be found in private service than formerly, women having found it expedient to bring their knowledge of the culinary art more to the level of the chef; while in many cases those who have graduated at one of the schools for cookery have risen superior to him both in the way they flavour and serve the various dishes that call for skill and taste.Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, 1907

Before the law of this country servants of various kinds stand upon the same footing. The term of service is to be determined by the agreement between employer and employee, between master and man, between mistress and maid. The usual engagement is for a week's trial; if both are suited, the arrangement is to go on by the month. If the contract is for a term longer than a year, it should be put in writing or it will be invalid.

Importance of Clear Understanding between Employer and Employed at the Time of Engagement

A clear understanding between master and servant at the time of the engagement is most important.

A servant has a right to ask questions about the place in a respectful manner, and he should gain all the information he legitimately can about the character and demands of the household to which he thinks of going. Masters cannot expect efficient servants to be indifferent to the duties they are undertaking, and to their surroundings while performing those duties.

A servant should tell what he or she expects as a part of his place — to help and not to hinder him in the performance of his duties. For instance, a lady's maid has a right to a sewing room, and a valet to a room where he may press his master's clothes, free from the possible interference of other servants. In arranging for a place and its duties these matters should all be forecast, considered, and definitely settled.

But a servant should not have a right to dictate what he or she will or will not do. The employer has the right of naming duties. Servants are at liberty to accept them or not, as they wish.

Liability of a Servant to discharge under Differing Circumstances
The servant may be lawfully discharged before the expiration of his or her term for immoral conduct, wilful disobedience of orders, gross incompetence to perform his duty, etc. Intoxication, for example, is a sufficient cause for dismissal. In such cases the servant is paid wages for the period he or she has served, and not for the entire month.

If the servant is discharged unjustly, and without sufficient cause, before the expiration of his or her term, he or she is entitled to a week's or a month's wages. In other words, if a master or mistress, without just cause, discharges a servant before his or her month expires, the servant is entitled to wages in full for the week or month, as the arrangement for service and wages may be. If, on the other hand, an employer has occasion to speak to a servant for neglect of duty, and the servant says he or she will leave at once, the employer has a perfect right to withhold all wages for the week or month. A servant should give the employer proper notice before leaving. If the servant is employed by the month, at least one week's notice is necessary, and if by the week, not less than two or three days.

If a servant leaves without proper notice and before his month expires, unless through sickness or because of some accident, he forfeits his wages for the month.

Wages which may be claimed in Case of Abrupt Dismissal or Voluntary Leaving
If a servant employed in a family hears of another situation and, without the employer's consent, leaves at once, or on the following day, he or she forfeits claim to wages of his or her week or month. In many cases servants are influenced by friends in such precipitate action, and should realize they do an injustice to themselves as well as to their employer.

An employer may engage a servant on one week's trial and, at the end of the week, both may be satisfied. But if later, perhaps in the second or third week, the servant becomes careless, neglects duties, and when reproved replies impertinently, the employer may discharge him or her with wages to date.

The Question of References
As a general rule a master is not obliged to give a reference, and statements in regard to the character of servants, to those who intend to employ them, are generally regarded as privileged communications. In other words, a master or mistress is not bound to give a servant a character or letter of recommendation. If such is given, it should be truthful. If the servant is not a good one, care must be used in the wording of the reference.

Penalty for forging a Reference by Self or Proxy
A reference made by a person with malicious intent and containing false statements calculated to injure and harm the servant would be libelous and not privileged.

A servant obtaining employment by any false or forged letter or certificate of recommendation is guilty of a misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is punishable by imprisonment in a penitentiary, or county jail, for not more than one year, or by a fine of not more than $500, or by both.

Penalty for personating an Employer
Any individual who personates a master or mistress and gives a servant a character is liable to punishment. A servant altering a written character, or offering a false one from a pei*son representing a master or mistress, is also liable.

Right to Fare to Place of Engagement
If servants are going a distance, it should be understood that if they leave before the master is ready to return, they must pay their own fare back. If the servant remains during the period for which he or she is engaged, his fare is paid both ways.

Heads of a House must indorse Management
The heads of a household must indorse any one to whom they depute the management of their establishment. Too much stress cannot be laid upon this necessity. The responsibilities of the housekeeper rest heavily upon her, and the heads of the house should never give ear to the complaint of a disaffected or malicious servant. Such reports should always be sent to the one whom they chiefly concern.

For the heads of the house to listen is to give credence at least in part, to disintegrate authority, and to take it from hands in which it is frankly placed. It is the beginning of disorder. And in housekeeping order is a first law.

To guard Exactions of Servants, One of Another
The exactions of servants toward one another is another point which should be carefully guarded against. In any group of persons, even if there are only three or four, there is commonly some more dominating and masterful — not to say lazy — character than the others. Mistress or housekeeper should guard carefully the more yielding and kindlier dispositions, and see that they are not put upon by their colleagues. Such a domestic as "the man of all work" is especially apt to be loaded with duties by other servants unless he is protected.
Mrs. Seely's Manual (Chapters on Domestic Servants), Mrs. L. Seely, 1902