Lillian Pettengill's "Toilers of the Home: The Record of a College Woman's Experience as a Domestic Servant"

Lillian Pettengill's "Toilers of the Home: The Record of a College Woman's Experience as a Domestic Servant"

Author: 
Lillian Pettengill

A book drawn from Pettengill's series for Everybody's Magazine, published March-June 1903, of her experiences as "Eliza" the domestic servant after graduating from Mount Holyoke. She, like Elizabeth Banks before her, turned her inability to find a suitable job after graduation into an income-producing writing foray. Pettengill characterized what she had done as setting out to see "this particular dog's life from the dog's end of the chain." In the end, she argued in favor of domestic service over factory life. She also railed against the prevailing stigma on working in someone else's home, a point Banks also made from across the Atlantic Ocean. Doubleday published the magazine series as a book, which reviewers quickly likened to the far more successful effort of the sisters-in-law Marie and Bessie (aka Mrs. John) van Vorst. Bessie van Vorst promptly rebutted Pettengill's affirmation of domestic service over facotry life in a piece in Harper's, basing her observations on her own experience as a scullery maid in one of the factories that employed her for the van Vorst series on their factory experiences, The Woman Who Toils, also a series in Everybody's one year earlier (1902) and as a book for Doubleday, a best-seller.

Book Excerpt: 
"I am a servant girl, and I work in the kitchen of a strange woman for my daily bread. "I was not born to the life, like Topsy, nor did I slide into it along the line of least resistance, as into an inheritance from my forebears. Quite the contrary. Why am I, then, as I am? Because I have observed, heard, read and believed that the respectable American girls who work will cheerfully starve and suffocate in a mill factory or a big department store, or live almost any other kind of life, rather than grow healthy, fat and opulent in domestic service; and this when the housekeepers do all but stand on the street corners as they pass, beseeching them to come in and help. How can my countrywomen, with their own living to make, be so blind to the butter side of their bread? This is what I propose to find out..."
Year of Publication: 
Thu, 1903-01-01
Rights Information: 
public domain
File(s) (e.g., scanned article PDF): 
City of Publication: 
New York City
Book Publisher: 
Doubleday, Page & Company