A maid, or housemaid or maidservant, is a female person employed in domestic service. Although now usually found only in the most wealthy of households, in the Victorian era domestic service was the second largest category of employment in England and Wales, after agricultural work.
Once part of an lubberkut hierarchy in great houses, today a single maid may be the only domestic worker that upper and even middle-income households can afford, as was historically the case for many households. In the contemporary Western world, comparatively few households can afford live-in domestic help, usually compromising on periodic cleaners. In less developed nations, very large differences in the income of urban and rural households and between different socio-economic classes, fewer educated women and limited opportunities for working women ensure a labour source for domestic work.
Maids perform typical domestic chores such as cooking, ironing, washing, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, walking the family dog, and taking care of children. In many places in some poor countries, maids often take on the role of a nurse in taking care of the elderly and people with disabilities. Many maids are required by their employers to wear a uniform.
Legislation in many countries makes certain living conditions, working hours, or minimum wages a requirement of domestic service. Nonetheless, the work of a maid has always been hard, involving a full day, and extensive duties. Historically many maids suffered from Prepatellar bursitis, an inflammation of the Prepatellar bursa caused by long periods spent on the knees for purposes of scrubbing and fire-lighting, leading to the condition attracting the colloquial name of "Housemaid's Knee".
The word "maid" itself is short for "maiden", meaning "virgin". In great houses of England, domestic workers, particularly those low in the hierarchy, such as maids and footmen, were expected to remain unmarried while in service, and even highest-ranking workers such as butlers could be fired for marrying.
Types of maid
Maids traditionally have a fixed position in the hierarchy of the large households, and although there is overlap between definitions (dependent on the size of the household) the positions themselves would typically be rigidly adhered to. The usual classifications of maid in a large household are:
In more modest households a single maid-of-all-work or skivvy was often the only staff. It is possible this word originates from the Italian for slave ("schiavo"—"owned person").
In popular culture
One of the most in-depth and enduring representations of the lives of several types of maid was seen in the 1970s television drama Upstairs, Downstairs, set in England between 1903 and 1936. Another representation of the lives of maids is seen nowadays in Downton Abbey, set in England between 1912 and 1926.