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There was a girl walking

In the book Out to seek service historian Sølvi Sogner and ethnologist Kari Telste the history of the maids as a prism for social development and the position of women.


The tasks of past service girls were less limited and defined than today's trainees and au pairs experience. As late as 1937, a survey from Oslo showed that many service girls worked more than 12 hours a day.

Service was the only possible livelihood of many girls from the time they entered the adult ranks until they were forged into the hymn's links.

- The service time was also intended as an apprenticeship for expectant housewives, especially in the countryside, says Sølvi Sogner, co-author of Out to seek service – story about the maids.

Some were old in service. The army could or would not feel safe in the old age, long ago these struggles from society's bottom layer ended on the disgraceful poverty box.

Duty service and chambers

The book begins with pre-industrial times. In 1687, a statutory duty of half a year was again mandated for all young people. In this way, the supply was to exceed demand, and the people had to decide the conditions. This was further sharpened by the Chauffeur's Ordinance in 1741, which hit hard on the loose house. Distress also created child servants, some being "loungers" that unmarried mothers could not bring into service.

The service people were considered part of the house noise. They were given the same correctness and chastisement as able children. This was completely banned in 1891.

Legal protection

The authors have traced criminal cases from the 1600th century about seafarers who chastised their servants to death.

- What appeals and legal protection did the servants have at that time?

- In principle, had the same legal protection as everyone else, says Sogner.

Everyday wear made it difficult to use. That servants were mistreated to death was probably one of the rarities. Rural households often consisted of more than the nuclear family, so there were many buffers. In addition, they worked in groups. Matmora trained the maid, so everyone benefited from having a good relationship.

The authors have also looked at disputes between masters and servants tried in Kristiania City Court 1867-91. The girl had a duty to serve and claim wages at the time she was attached. If the ruling or the girl wanted to cancel the contract before the end of time, the case was often tried before the court.

- Which of the parties contacted the court?

- It was both. The maid could be upheld if she received too little food. Or if she was deducted from her salary for things that had broken down. The rule was upheld on things like uncleanness, incompetence, nose-wisdom and disobedience. Serious disobedience was not coming home on time, going through a curfew or having a master visit to the room. Much of this had been natural for us to accept, but a set of rules was followed. Then as now, the authorities probably tended to listen most to the strongest party.

Sentenced to write

The authors mention a 1600th-century Askim hubby who kept alive and cheated on a frightened servant girl. The girl reported the landlord to the sheriff, and the man was sentenced to write his sins in the church.

- Were all girls equally protected from unwanted laziness from the master?

- It is difficult to say exactly.

- In Amalie Skram's books from the end of the 1800th century, maids are described who do not dare to murmur against approaching gentlemen in the house. Did things get worse?

- It was probably more difficult in closed city households. My impression is, however, that there were few such abuses. Figures suggest that most of the girls were with boys their own age.

More class differences

In 1854 the duty of service was abolished. In 1900, six percent of the population was employed, compared with 11 percent in 1801. The decline was clearly greatest for boys. The growing shipping, industrialization and urbanization of the 1800th century created other trade routes for the sword side.

The city girls also applied to the industry, which was a freer and better paid workplace. The lure of higher wages and lighter work indicated the village girls to the townspeople's place of service.

In the latter half of the 1800th century, Kristiania's new middle class emerged. The city's merchants and craftsmen built private homes on the loops far away from the workshops and shops of downtown's noise and smell. The maids became more housekeepers. Without electricity and inlet water, it was enough to intervene, especially for a household with social pretensions. In 1875, female servants accounted for 46 percent of all working women in Kristiania, and the average age was 25 years.

- The number of girls often reflected the wealth of the house, and only half of the maids had workmates. Then a hierarchy arose with the young girl on a leash. In the fullness of time, she could advance to chefs or house maids. The housewife managed the work so that the housewife could dedicate herself completely to her guests.

- Did the housewife then have the right to discipline the girl?

- She had enough.

- The so-called "chef-only girls" had the lowest salary, were the youngest and almost always came from the country. How was the transition to city life for them?

- Social divisions were sharper in the city. They probably experienced that the housewife did not have the same status as at home. The daughter of the house may have been trained in other things. This sweats enough.

Trade union

After the turn of the last century, the maids in many cities formed their own trade union. Alone with an employer, it was not easy for green youths to stand on the barricades. Some housewives also refused to hire organized girls, who pulled the limit at 14 hours of work and accepted one and a half free evenings a week.

- The association ebbed out after only a few years, Sogner says.

In 1930, the Aid Society resumed on the initiative of the Workers' Youth Team. At the end of the 1930s, working environment law regulations were proposed for the servants. Because of the war, they were not kneaded until 1948. But then these, water, electricity and fewer children made it less relevant to have domestic help. Moreover, women's struggle and increasing industrialization created other ways of life for women. The days of the profession were numbered. To the Filipino maids came. One day we might get their story.

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