Who Do You Want on Your Household Staff?

Portrait of a Servant by Vasily Vereshchagin

For my current manuscript, I’m researching life on a Russian country estate. I already knew Russian landowners had an obscene number of household servants (think upwards of three or four hundred for one family), but today I came across an astounding bit of information about what some of the servants were used for:

…the overabundance of house serfs explains their extraordinarily specific responsibilities. More than one landowner had a man who was responsible solely for holding his pipe and giving it to him to smoke; one mistress kept maids who were each in charge of one particular garment; many retained special cooks for the annual duty of making pancakes at Shrovetide. This bewildering swarm (as foreigners perceived it) customarily occupied separate male and female servants’ wings and had their own kitchen or kitchens, cooking and laundry staff, and bathhouse.

After reading this, naturally I started thinking about which of my least favorite tasks I would like to have a servant to handle. There are so many possibilities. Maybe someone to towel off my dogs as they go in and out all day long, tracking leaves, grass, and mud into my house. Or someone to brush my daughter’s hair every morning as she whines and screams. Someone to fold and put away the laundry would be fabulous. Too many choices!

Please share! What one task would you most like to have a servant perform for you?

REFERENCE: Roosevelt, Priscilla. Life on the Russian Country Estate: A Social and Cultural History. Yale University, 1995.

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28 Responses to Who Do You Want on Your Household Staff?

  1. Hmm…I like your idea about someone to towel off the dogs as they come in from outside tracking rain, mud, leaves and what not. It’d also be awesome to have a crew to clean the bathroom (hate that chore…tubs, toilets, sinks..oh my), or painting…because I like to change the color of my rooms more often than I should, or maybe someone to drive me to work on icy, snowy days…

    I don’t know…lol…too many things I’d love to hand over to someone else.

    Fun post Ally!

  2. Mary Roya says:

    I just want someone to clean my house. The rest I can/might do. (smile). I just love these old historial tibits. I bet they were paid a penny a week? But they got room and board. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Angelyn says:

    If someone could just dust my blinds, that would be great. “Falling Stars” by Anita Mills–heart-rending subplot of a chimney sweep boy at a Russian country estate.

    great post, ally!!

    • Ally says:

      That’s a good one, Angelyn. I recently hosted a baby shower at my house and my windows were so gross I spent an entire day washing the wooden blinds and removing the cobwebs from behind them. Aack!

      Thanks for the book suggestion. Hopefully I can find it at a used bookstore.

  4. Ceri Hebert says:

    Let’s see… I’d like to have a servant to clean the cat box. And one to do the laundry. And one to straighten the couch cover because the darned thing confounds me. The list would go on and on and on…. Great post, Ally. Gets me dreaming!

    • Ally says:

      LOL on the couch cover. The possbilities are intriguing. I think we need to train our kids to take on some of these undesirable tasks (although I’d gladly do them all myself if I could just get them to keep their rooms clean!).

  5. Calisa Rhose says:

    Definitely folding and putting away laundry! Or doing dishes. My two least favorite chores. I’d rather scrub the toilet!

    • Ally says:

      I’m with you on that one, Calisa. I’d rather scrub the bathroom than wash dishes. Well…except for my boys’ bathroom. A truckstop bathroom is less disgusting. *Sigh*

  6. I’d like a gardener. I don’t mind gardening, but my back is giving out on me, and I still want to enjoy a nice garden. Yep, 5 or 6 gardeners would my choice. ;=))

    • Ally says:

      Oooh, another good one. I love my gardens, but I’m not a big fan of pulling weeds, especially here in Texas where the ground turns as hard as cement by the beginning of summer.

  7. I would definitely have a gardener, a cook and someone to clean the house. If I lived on a bit larger scale, I’d want the house keeper to have a handyman husband. 🙂

  8. Kirsten says:

    Great post, Ally! The number of servants is just astonishing.

    My kingdom for someone who would do the grocery shopping. I just hate it. :o)

  9. I would give all I own (well, not really, you get it) to have a wife. I want someone who will cook, clean, do laundry, the budget, rub my back, and tell me how wonderful I am. Anyone care to apply?

    • Ally says:

      I frequently say we need another adult in our house to help with the kids and handle some of those things I don’t feel like doing. Great idea, Callie!

  10. JennyB says:

    I’d love to have a groundskeeper: someone who would mow the lawn, trim the shrubs, pull weeds, shovel snow, and always keep the bird feeder full.

    • Ally says:

      That’s a wonderful idea (though I don’t have to worry about snow here in Texas) and I love that you included filling the bird feeder. We’re very remiss in keeping it filled.

  11. Ella Quinn says:

    Washing the dog and trimming her nails. And I’d like a personal body servant.

    • Ally says:

      Yes, at least one of my dogs is constantly in need of a bath. It’s not so bad with the small ones, but the two big ones are a challenge.

  12. I don’t mind cleaning up and grooming our dog (although that’s a good idea for a servant), but if I had my choice, I’d cook and not have to clean up or do the dishes. Just do the cooking (ok, and eat, too!)

    • Ally says:

      I couldn’t agree more, Terry. I’m not much of a housekeeper so there are many tasks I don’t like, but I positively loathe cleaning the kitchen.

  13. Brinda says:

    My current MS has an employee who might have been called a servant in another era. Anyway, I would love to have one who did my laundry. I hate folding clothes and ironing more than any other chore!

    • Ally says:

      Brinda, I concur. I don’t mind washing them and getting them into the dryer, but I hate folding them and putting them away (a trait my children apparently inherited from me because not one of them puts their clothes away on a regular basis – they just dump them on the floor and walk on them all week, then give them back to me to wash again).

  14. My dog is very old. He doesn’t want anyone to pet him or play with him and though he does like being taken for a walk he wants to walk really slowly like the old guy he is. He hates to be indoors during the day regardless of the weather(whines continually to stay outside), but he doesn’t want to be outdoors by himself. He wants me to go outdoors and sit by him while he lays in the sunshine. I can do that for an hour, but then I have things to do (laundry, dishes, shopping, kids, work) and he doesn’t want me to do them. Vet says he’s healthy, just very old. I need a dog sitter – literally. Someone to just sit outside by him while he lays in the sun and do nothing except be there.

    • Ally says:

      Aww. If I had an extra servant (or any servant for that matter), I’d definitely lend her to you to sit outside with your dog so he could lay in the sun for as long as he wanted.

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