Mrs Beeton: Duties of the Lady's-Maid


Mrs Beeton - Lady's maid


  • Intro

    Mrs Beeton’s Book of Household Management was first published in 1861. It not only contains over 2000 recipes, but is also a complete guide to running a household. The book catered for the increasingly frenetic lifestyle of an expanding middle class. Many of its readers will have been entering into an unfamiliar way of life, having recently stepped up the social ladder, and the book offers all sorts of essential advice: how to choose friends and acquaintances; how to dress; how to receive morning calls, or to seat guests at the dinner table. However, Mrs Beeton made it plain that the mistress of the house was not expected to dirty her hands. Instead she should delegate responsibility - the majority of Beeton's instructions are designed to be carried out by servants. The book contains meticulously detailed advice on the duties of a wide variety of staff - cooks, dairy maids, nurse maids, valets, lady's-maids, footmen and the like - all of whom would have been expected to operate under the watchful command of their employer.


    Isabella Beeton (1836-65) was married to the publisher Samuel Beeton, whose most successful venture was the 'Englishwoman's Domestic Magazine'. Isobella was largely responsible for the production of the magazine, taking charge of the cookery pages, reading all the proofs, and devising the layout. Household Management first appeared in monthly parts in the magazine. She died when she was only 28 having contracted puerperal fever. In this extract, Mrs Beeton describes the various duties of a lady's maid.

    Shelfmark: c133 c5

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  • Transcript

    Duties of the Lady’s-Maid

    Duties of the Lady’s-Maid

    The duties of a lady’s-maid are more numerous, and perhaps more onerous, than those of the valet; for while the latter is aided by the tailor, the hatter, the linen-draper, and the perfumer, the lady’s-maid has to originate many parts of the mistress’s dress herself: she should, indeed be a tolerable expert milliner and dressmaker, a good hairdresser, and possess some chemical knowledge of the cosmetics with which the toilet-table is supplied, in order to use them with safety and effect. ...

    Every morning, immediately after her mistress has left, and while breakfast is on, she should throw the bed open, by taking off the clothes; open the windows (except in rainy weather), and leave the room to air for half an hour. After breakfast...if the rooms are carpeted, she should sweep them carefully, having previously strewed the room with moist tea-leaves, dusting every table and chair, taking care to penetrate to every corner, and moving every article of furniture that is portable. This done satisfactorily, and having cleaned the dressing-glass, polished up the furniture and the ornaments, and made the glass jug and basin clean and bright, emptied all slops, , emptied the water-jugs and filled them with fresh water, and arranged the rooms, the dressing-room is ready for the mistress when she thinks proper to appear. 

    The dressing-room thoroughly in order, the same thing is to be done in the bedroom, in which she will probably be assisted by the housemaid to make the bed and empty the slops. In making the bed, she will study her lady’s wishes, whether it is to be hard or soft, sloping or straight, and see that it is done accordingly.

    Having swept the bedroom with equal care, dusted the tables and chairs, chimney-ornaments, and put away all articles of dress left from yesterday, and cleaned and put away any articles of jewellery, her next care is to see, before her mistress goes out, what requires replacing in her department, and furnish her with a list of them, that she may use her discretion about ordering them. All this done, she may settle herself down to any work on which she is engaged, this will consist chiefly in mending; which is first to be seen to; everything, except stockings, being mended before washing. Plain work will probably be one of the lady’s-maid’s chief employments.

    A waiting-maid, who wishes to make herself useful, will study the fashion-books with attention, so as to be able to aid her mistress’s judgment in dressing, according to the prevailing fashion, with such modifications as her style of countenance requires. She will also, if she has her mistress’s interest at heart, employ her spare time in repairing and making up dresses which have served one purpose, to serve another also; or turning many things, unfitted for her mistress to use, for the younger branches of the family. The lady’s-maid may thus render herself invaluable to her mistress, and increase her own happiness in so doing. The exigencies of fashion and luxury are such, that all ladies except those of the very highest rank, will consider themselves fortunate in having about them a thoughtful person, capable of diverting their finery to a useful purpose. 

    Among other duties, the lady’s-maid should understand the various processes for washing, and cleaning, and repairing laces; edging of collars; removing stains and grease-spots from dresses, and similar processes, for which the following recipes will be found very useful.

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