The Experience of Domestic Service for Women in Early Modern London
The late seventeenth- and early eighteenth-century texts presented here describe female servants' experiences of work in early modern London. Domestics' court depositions offer qualitative evidence that female servants were an important support of emergent capitalism in the early modern metropolis. Exposed here are the contractual underpinnings of domestic service for women; the mobility that domestic servants enjoyed; and the concern that this mobility generated in the authorities. Paid domestic work has traditionally been regarded by historians simply as a pre-marital phase of women's lives. In fact, the depositions in this volume show that service was a prototypical form of female wage labour. While some women left service once they married, others relied on domestic positions as an avenue to generating income as life-long single women, as married women, and as widows. Even though they usually lived in poverty, labouring women who worked as servants in London had considerably more agency than has earlier been recognized. Female servants who deposed before London ecclesiastical and parish courts three centuries ago were mostly non-literate. Strikingly, their individual voices are clear and distinct as they present information about their working and personal circumstances.
'... Humfrey succeeds in providing an illuminating new perspective on the experiences of female domestic servants within early modern London.' New Perspectives on the Eighteenth Century 'Largely taken for granted at the time on account of their ubiquity and for long ignored by later histories which recognise [servants’] indispensable contribution to society and economy of the time. Paula Humfrey’s edited collection of documents usefully contributes to the discussion of servant mobility, sexuality, literacy, privacy, wages, the feminisation of the occupation, neighbourhood networks, honour and reputation, and much more besides.' Southern History '... provide[s] a wide range of accessible source materials for term papers and research projects, and would thus be worthwhile for libraries to purchase.' Sixteenth Century Studies