Ladies Maids and Valets


May 12, 2005
3,109
7
163
Brian:

As usual, your grasp of the culture and customs of the Edwardian period has put things in perspective. I’m still hoping for an article from you someday.

You wondered about male secretaries and how they fared in future careers. I can’t think of any names right now but I’ve read about men who started out as secretaries going on to carve distinguished careers for themselves in business and politics. I gather these secretaries were a mix of "chief of staff" and "personal assistant" rather than merely letter-writers or note-takers; for that matter, lady secretaries also filled broader roles. It isn’t surprising that enduring friendships resulted from these close associations. Since powerful men, such as Prime Minister Lloyd George, increasingly had women secretaries, it’s also not surprising that romantic affairs developed; Lloyd George’s secretary/mistress eventually became his wife. And there were same-sex dalliances, too, like Winston Churchill and his secretary.

As to Lucy Duff Gordon’s secretary Mabel "Franks" Francatelli, she was from a respectable Anglo-Italian family; one of her uncles was the famous cook Charles Elme Francatelli, for some years Queen Victoria’s personal chef. I don’t know why Franks wasn’t a "full" passenger on Titanic. She was always listed under her own name on passenger lists for other voyages with her employer, so it’s a mystery. My thought is that Lucy DG’s husband made the arrangements for the Titanic trip and that, being a bit more of a stickler about money (he was after all on the board of directors for his wife’s company), it was his decision to combine his wife’s ticket with her secretary’s. Cosmo DG almost never traveled with Lucy when she was conducting business, and she likely deferred to him whenever he did join her. For herself, Lucy was extravagant in the extreme, which was later a factor in her corporate viability, and almost always sailed under her own name for maximum publicity. Cosmo, Lucy’s mother and her daughter were the only three people who ever succeeded in reigning her in when it came to expenditure; I doubt anybody else dared advise her on anything!

Randy
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
Thanks, Randy, for the compliment and the added info. I have no plans to write an article on these subjects just now because I rely too much on other people's research for my knowledge - I haven't really jumped into the trenches the way you and other researchers have and won't get a chance anytime soon.

I thought of Churchill's secretary when you started talking about male secretaries, because I remember that he was very close to the family and his photos have revealed him to be a very natty dresser and quite suave-looking. But I had not known how far his relationship with his employer had gone! I suppose since the most extensive reading I've ever done on the couple was the collection of their letters to each other (a fantastic read that I would highly recommend), this isn't surprising.

Come to think of it, Clementine Churchill's "father" (generally held not to be her biological father by everyone, including herself and her descendants) - Sir Henry Hozier - held the job title of secretary, but I think he was secretary to a company rather than an individual and I assume it was a more executive position.

Regards,
Brian
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
I've recently been speculating on how relations between the surviving first-class passengers and their servants would have changed AFTER the sinking. What particularly fascinates me about the 'Titanic' disaster is that it affected everybody equally, regardless of class. In the face of such a terrible disaster, wealth and social status counted for little or nothing. On the night of the sinking, mistresses and maids found themselves, quite literally, 'in the same boat'. Indeed, it could be argued that, in several instances, the maids were more fortunate than their employers - at least they had not lost husbands, fathers and sons. Nevertheless, they would still have undergone the same trauma, witnessing the demise of the largest ship in the world, listening to the agonized screams of those in the water and then drifting around in mid-ocean until rescue by the 'Carpathia'. The after-effects of such an ordeal - nightmares, depression, breakdowns - could last a lifetime. So I wonder: to what extent were allowances made by first-class survivors for their servants? Once back on land, were they just expected to carry on with their duties as normal, without betraying their feelings? Or did the disaster, as a shared experience, actually act as some sort of emotional bond between mistress and maid? Even making allowances for the rigid class-system of the day, and the years of social conditioning that both women would have undergone, I like to think that they could have provided comfort and support for each other in the days and months following the disaster. Or was the 1912 equivalent of 'post-traumatic stress disorder' (probably known simply as 'nerves' back then) viewed as an affliction of the gently-reared upper classes only?
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
I've always thought it would have been extremely awkward to be one of Titanic's servants on the Carpathia with an employer who's just lost a loved one. I'm sure their feelings towards the people they worked for varied greatly from one to the other. And setting aside their own feelings, would reaching out and trying to be a comfort be welcomed or would it be seen as an unlooked for liberty?

Even today, going through a traumatic or personal experience with an employer might confuse things regarding boundaries to an uncomfortable degree. My guess would be that in some cases a bond was created and in others, everyone was expected to stay in their place and keep things professional.

I know that Martha Stone's and Charlotte Cardeza's maids were with them for many years. Mrs Stone's obit mentions that the maid, Amelia Icard, was included in her will to a fairly generous amount. Judith Gellar said that Anna Ward married the Cardeza family chauffeur and remained in Mrs C's employ, but that she refused to get on a ship again. This makes me wonder if her duties shifted. If she remained a lady's maid and refused to travel, Mrs C would have had to have had an enormous affection for her to retain her. There is some indication that she did in any event - isn't there a photo of the two of them together here on ET?

It is interesting that Ida Straus's maid, Ellen Bird, went to work for the Speddens after the disaster. I wonder what became of the maid the Speddens had with them on the ship.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
This is all very interesting. Thank you, Brian, for your thoughts and insight - much appreciated, as ever.

I'm glad I'm not the only one to have considered the issue of personal relationships between first-class passengers and their servants. As you say, things must have varied greatly from case to case. Some women presumably kept their feelings well-hidden from their maids; others must have been far more open. As I commented before, it would be lovely to think that they could have found comfort in each other.

Which reminds me of one nice story I heard, related in Flora Thompson's exquisite 'Larkrise to Candleford' (Shelley/Brian - have you read this? You would adore it. Thompson's milieu could not have been further removed from 'Society' but her memoirs are the most touching I've ever come across). Living in the tiny hamlet of Larkrise in the 1880s was a retired maid, who had for years been in the employ of a great and titled lady. The two women spent decades together, side-by-side, the maid dressing her mistress for every occasion and bearing witness to her most intimate joys and sorrows. The day finally came when the great lady lay dying and her maid - also very elderly by this time - was keeping watch by the bedside while the rest of the family were at dinner. Waking from her sleep, the lady asked to be lifted into a sitting position. As the maid helped her up, the lady put her arms around her neck, kissed her on the cheek and simply said, 'My friend'. According to Thompson, these two little words meant more to the maid than the cottage and the generous legacy she was left in her mistress's will.

I had no idea than Ellen Bird went to work for the Speddens after the disaster. I've often wondered what became of her and if, like the surviving crew-members of the 'Titanic', her wages ceased from the time of Ida Straus's death...
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
Although the Allison's servants had not long been engaged, the thoughts of their cook Millie Brown might be of interest here. I appreciate that this discussion centres upon personal servants, but some at least of Millie's comments are still relevant. On the Carpathia she wrote a letter to her mother in which she mentions first the fate of other servants in the party, Nurse is saved, the chauffeur is lost ("poor fellow") and Sarah Daniels (Mrs Allison's personal maid) "had got on all right but poor girl she keeps worrying about her things". Only at the end of the letter does she remark: "I have not seen Mr and Mrs Allison or Lorraine, so I suppose they have gone under. But there is just the chance they might have been picked up by another ship. I'm not going to worry about it as they have several friends on board and then there are all the partners of the firm."

In a letter sent a week later from Montreal she writes about how much she enjoyed the scenery on the train journey from New York, and adds as an aside: "by the way, Mr and Mrs Allison are really drowned". When the servants arrived in their hotel room after the train journey in company with Allison family members: "I gave vent to my feelings and had a good 'laugh' you know. I had had to keep it in for so long. We had been traveling with the others and had to keep ourselves in".
.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Thanks Bob, this is extraordinary stuff. Obviously, not every servant felt a 'personal' bond with their employer! Yet Millie's letter strikes me as just the tiniest bit callous. I mean, ET board members get all emotional over the tragic death of little Lorraine - yet the Allison's cook doesn't seem to have let it bother her too greatly! If nothing else, I'm amazed that she doesn't voice more concern over the loss of her job. I wonder what she means about the 'laugh'? Was this a nervous reaction? Or did she simply not find it appropriate to smile and joke in the presence of the bereaved family?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
I think you'll find that for most domestics it was nothing more than a working relationship, with little or no affection on either side. There are several maids, a cook and a butler in my own family tree. My grandmother liked to work for 'theatricals', who she thought were more generous and less demanding. "We knew our place all right, but we didn't expect them to take liberties. We never really thought they were any better than us, but by and large they were no worse either."
.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
Martin, I've had the same thoughts about Millie's letter (though I could never remember which of the Allison servants wrote it). I like to give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was just giddy at being alive and was a bit off the wall after her ordeal.

I think, though, that she is thinking of her financial prospects when she mentions the Allisons' friends and Hudson's business partners.

A bit more about Ellen Bird: she reportedly brought Ida Strauss's fur coat - which had been given to her upon boarding a lifeboat - to Mrs. Strauss's daughter after she reached New York. The daughter told her to keep it, however, and consider it a gift from her mother.

Not necessarily a gesture of personal esteem, as it is not likely that Ida Strauss regarded the coat as a cherished possession. And their daughter might have only regarded it as a disturbing reminder of her parents' loss.

It was recounted here on ET somewhere that, decades after the sinking, one of the Strausses' children was approached in a hotel by an employee who identified himself as Ellen Bird's husband. I don't know what their reaction was. Perhaps the person who originally posted it will see this.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
I'm turning my thoughts back to the maids and valets travelling in first-class. I know their status aboard has been considered already and I'd like to make my own contribution to the thread - if only to have any misconceptions I have corrected by those who know better!

The fact that there was a designated Maids' and Valets' Saloon on C-deck suggests to me that this operated as an ocean-going equivalent of the servants' hall on land - when off-duty, retainers would have taken their leisure here, reading books or magazines, chatting and (in the case of the women) perhaps making alterations or repairs to the clothing of their mistresses. It is interesting to consider how many of the servants were acquainted prior to the voyage, possibly having met on previous crossings or when their employers were staying in the same houses or hotels.

According to one deck-plan I've seen, the room was arranged with rows of tables - was there a piano for impromptu music-making too? Perhaps not likely, as the saloon was situated in the middle of first-class territory and I doubt passengers would have relished the noise this would have created so close to their cabins!

I imagine the maids and valets would have taken their meals at the same time as their employers - would a steward have been assigned to 'wait on' here, with meals provided by the second-class galley? Governesses and secretaries would have eaten in the first-class dining-saloon, where they would have been a discreet but by no means embarrassing presence.

What would the servants have worn during the voyage? This question has never been answered to my complete satisfaction. In the case of the women, certainly not frilly caps and aprons! I imagine plain gowns made of some durable, good-quality material but not in the height of fashion. I doubt anybody ever confused a maid for her mistress! Similarly, the valets would have worn suits - possibly even cast-offs inherited from their 'gentleman'. The idea that they glided around at all hours in black tie and tails, like a butler on land, is not founded in fact.

Lastly, I'd observe that personal servants were - in a manner of speaking - the aristocrats of their trade and enjoyed opportunities and privileges extended to few of their class. The work could be hard and the wages poor but, providing one had a reasonably sympathetic employer, I'd say that the compensations, such as foreign travel, were many.
 
S

sashka pozzetti

Guest
I wonder how many of these personal servants had families of their own too. It must have been not only exhausting constantly looking after people, but when you went on journeys abroad, you would not see them for weeks. If you were a female personal servant I can only presume you would have to rely on other family members to look after any children.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
My impression is that many employers preferred not to hire husbands or wives as servants - most maids and valets were unmarried. Interesting point, though - can anybody who is an expert here tell me how many servants aboard the 'Titanic' WERE married?
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
The maids' and valets' saloon was basically a dining room, but I imagine it served also as a location for general (quiet) socialising - forget the piano! Stewards would have been assigned specifically to serve there, and I'd imagine that the menu was basically the same as in the 2nd Class dining room. Secretaries and governesses would surely not have been allowed to use the 1st Class dining room unless their employers had paid the full 1st Class fare for their passage.

Personal servants were not generally required to do manual household chores (certainly not while travelling) so they had no need to dress accordingly. If house servants, chauffeurs etc were on board they'd be having a leisurely time in 2nd Class and again dressed in their best 'civvies'. Anybody seen walking the corridors dressed in anything like the traditional garb of a house servant would almost certainly have been a steward or stewardess.

The earning potential of domestic service varied enormously from the bottom to top of the tree. The most junior members of the 'household' were paid little more than pocket money of a few shillings a month, while a top class butler or cook/housekeeper could ask for the same rate of pay as, for instance, a ship's Surgeon. And they'd get it.
.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
Thank you. I have assumed that secretaries and governesses WERE fully-fledged first class passengers in their own right and so could make use of all first class facilities - is this in fact correct? Did they appear under their own names on the passenger list?

Ladies maids and valets would NEVER have performed manual chores, either on land or at sea. As I say, they were very much the aristocrats of their trade and many were in fact highly skilled. The best maids were experienced hairdressers and needlewomen - and some servants were even conversant in basic French, German and Italian (of course, I'm thinking of those who WEREN'T French, German or Italian by birth!)
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
The BOT passenger lists have everybody appearing under their own names, but in the contract ticket list most of the servants appear only as maid or valet to whomever. This does at least suggest which of the employees were travelling at the reduced servants' rate. The two governesses, Grace Scott Bowen and Elizabeth Shute, appear under their own names, as do secretaries like Victor Giglio and Vivian Payne. The odd one out is Laura Francatelli, who appears only as an un-named 'maid', but that might have been in line with the Duff-Gordon's attempt to travel incognito.
.
 

Bob Godfrey

Member
Nov 22, 2002
6,045
64
308
UK
On further reflection, there is other evidence to suggest that Miss F really was booked (at least originally) at the servant's rate. The price charged for the three people in the D-G party was not nearly sufficient to cover the D-G's two staterooms plus a third berth at even the cheapest full rate, but was about right if one of the party had been charged at the servants' rate. The Cave list shows Miss F to have been assigned cabin E-36, in company with the Spedden's maid. Dan Klisthorner believes this might be an error. Or perhaps more money changed hands later and an adjustment was made. Is there any evidence that Lucy and her secretary dined together in the main saloon? I don't count the restaurant, where there would have been no barrier to any 1st Class passenger who could pay for (or be treated to) a meal. Randy, are you there?
.
 

Brian Ahern

Member
Dec 19, 2002
643
1
171
If memory serves, "The It Girls" had Laura in the dining saloon. It mentioned that she and Lucy refrained from dressing when they went to dinner on Sunday night because of the cold. The issue of her exact status as far as WSL was concerned has been canvassed before with no real answer.

Bob, was Victor Giglio indeed a secretary? This would explain why he was listed under his own name, which I have paused over.
 
Mar 20, 2007
734
1
111
I believe Lucy and Miss Franks dined in the B deck restaurant on the night of 14th. Bob differentiated it from the main saloon on D deck in his post above...
 

Similar threads