OP14: Managing One’s Station. Robert Roberts and the Professionalizing of Domestic Service
The so-called ‘servant problem’ was a frequent topic of both public and private conversation in the mid-nineteenth century United States. Letters and private journals as well as household guidebooks and periodicals are filled with complaints and advice on how to manage servants. Few contributors to the discussion, however, were servants themselves. Of the few who wrote publicly about their experiences, most were white and from middle-class backgrounds and therefore had a greater sense of security and freedom. Yet these writers have a remarkable predecessor in Robert Roberts who argues for professionalization as a solution back in 1827. That he was an African American man and possibly a former slave make his contribution particularly noteworthy, but so, too, should his methodical style of household management and clever, even subversive communication of his ideas.
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