The Servant Problem in the United States
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Throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth centuries, many upper and middle class households in the United States employed servants, but just as often, they complained about “the servant problem,” namely their perceived inability to find servants or ones that worked to their satisfaction. The concept hence became a common idea in the popular consciousness, with references to it and opinions about it being frequently proffered in popular media, including newspaper and magazine articles, satirical cartoons, and film. The purpose of this primary source collection is to show the variety of opinions offered on the so-called “servant problem” in the media, particularly popular media, while contextualizing them in a way that allows the reader to easily understand them. Though the opinions presented in popular media did not necessarily reflect the situation in an accurate way, describing the actual causes and issues behind the servant problem is not the focus of this collection. The purpose of this project is to contextualize and understand the opinions presented in newspapers, magazines, and other media. This primary source collection will be specifically focused on the period between 1880 and 1946. Though the concept of “the servant problem” had originated long before the late nineteenth century and it continued to persist after the Second World War, much of the popular discourse on the subject dates from this period. This project also allows for an exploration of the changes brought about by the First World War, the Great Depression, and the Second World War, which contributed to the decline of domestic service (after an initial exacerbation of the issue) as well as the eventual disappearance of the concept from the popular consciousness as many ceased to employ servants. This collection will be focused exclusively on the United States. Though popular discourse and complaints about “the servant problem” were equally prevalent in Great Britain, the context of this issue, especially in regards to class dynamics, was somewhat different.