A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2003 - December 2006
Trail End blueprints (Trail End Archival Collection)
DESPITE THEIR WEALTH and the size of the house, the Kendrick family did not like to keep a large staff. They didn't have a butler to work in the butlers' pantry, and the basement chauffeur's bedroom stood empty most of the time. They did, however, like to have a cook and a housekeeper on staff at all times, to be joined on occasion by a maid. When Diana Kendrick took over the household management in 1929, she expressed her personal desire to do away with the maid service. As she noted in a letter to her mother-in law, "I wouldn't get anyone, except to have the Senator be perfectly comfortable – and may not keep [this one] longer than his stay, if she isn't satisfactory, or if you think best not." (Apparently Eula Kendrick though it would be a good idea to keep a maid on staff, as Diana's hiring problems continued throughout the 1930s, not just with maids, but with cooks as well.)
THE SERVANT PROBLEM
At the turn of the century, having a hired source of "muscle power" was seen as an indicator of status. Unfortunately for those wishing to hire them, the number of women willing and able to work outside the home was dropping. 1870 census records showed one servant available to every eight American families. By 1910 that servant/household ratio had dropped to 1/12, falling further to 1/16 by 1920. Many factors contributed to the decline in servants, one of the main ones being increased opportunities in the job market due to the impact of World War One. Men were needed overseas so women were offered work in factories, offices and hospitals. Domestic service was no longer the only option for those women needing their own income.
Conditions for those working in factories could be harsh, but many women were willing to put up with stifling temperatures, low pay and dangerous machinery rather than return to domestic service. Why was that? Most maids were not treated harshly or cruelly. They were given a room of their own – for many, it was the first privacy they'd ever known – and a fairly decent salary. According to author Elizabeth Hale Gilman, who penned the 1916 book Housekeeping, responsibility often lay at the feet of the indifferent employer:
Is it not a fact to be considered deeply, not to say humbly, that girls prefer to work in factories and stores for poor wages and to live in wretched lodging houses, rather than to receive good wages and live in our homes? ... One woman complains that her servants are "disrespectful," another that they are "ungrateful," another that "they do not care anything about her." Suppose a servant should suddenly turn and ask us, "Do you care anything about me? Do you know about my childhood? Do you know how many brothers and sisters I have, and whether my father and mother are yet alive? Do you know what things make me glad or gay, what interests or hopes I have ? If I am faithful to you, will you teach me and ... protect my helpless old age?"
QUEEN OF THE KITCHEN
As a girl, Eula Kendrick learned how to do various housekeeping chores – cleaning, sewing, etc. – from her mother. One thing she did not learn, however, was cooking. Her father always kept a cook in the house, so Eula and her sister Mattie were given little chance to practice their culinary skills. While Eula later taught herself the basics, she usually had a cook on staff.
Although Eula (or, later her daughter-in-law Diana) decided what type of meal was to be served on any given day, the cook was the one who knew which meats, fruits, vegetables and other products were in season and what could be done with them. Before the advent of refrigeration, a good cook’s abilities were tested daily by the availability of needed goods at local markets and dairies.
Trail End’s cook was the undisputed queen of the kitchen. She was responsible for everything from a simple slice of toast in the morning to elaborate multi-course meals and impressive desserts. Here is one menu as prepared by an unidentified Trail End cook in 1930:
Because the family appreciated a good cook so much, some stayed for many years. Anna Simmerman, for example, a Swedish immigrant who started with Eula Kendrick in 1916, was still working here in early 1929 when Diana Kendrick arrived as a new bride. Diana commented about her: "She [Mrs. Simmerman] and I are getting along finely. She tells me what we are going to have! When I get more settled, I hope to do a little more actual house-keeping than that. Her cooking is really very good."
Anna Simmerman left her job at Trail End in May of 1929, shortly after the death of her husband, long-time Trail End caretaker George Simmerman. In late spring of 1930, she returned for a brief while to help out while Diana labored to find a permanent cook, and continued to work at Trail End off and on until shortly before her death in 1934.
In Sheridan, domestic servants – paid household workers – came from a variety of religious, ethnic and racial backgrounds. While some families employed Asian or African-American men as gardeners and porters, most female workers were of European descent. Many were daughters of miners who came to Sheridan from eastern Europe, Ireland, Austria and Scandinavia.
Most maids hired out when they were quite young and quit working as soon as they were married. In 1930, Diana Kendrick described one girl she’d just interviewed for a maid’s position:
I did not realize how young she was – only fifteen – until she came and told me. She is at high school, has never worked out, but is most eager to work here. She looks healthy, has a nice fresh complexion and dimples, blonde hair and seems quiet and intelligent. Of course, her age and inexperience are against her.
While some housekeepers and cooks stayed for years, Trail End’s maids rarely lasted more than a few months. Because of their inexperience, most made only $30 a month. As soon as higher paying jobs came along, they left. As noted by Diana Kendrick, such was the case with “Margaret,” a favorite maid who left in 1929: "I don’t blame her a bit, as she said she’d had an application in for a job at the telephone office for a year, and will get $1.75 a day to start, and $70 a month later. She really seemed to hate to go …" Margaret had been a favorite of Manville Kendrick’s, according to Diana, because "Margaret is a jewel – we certainly appreciate her. Manville claims she is the only living maid who will empty an ash try without even being told!
Like most maids in wealthy households, Trail End’s maids wore uniforms. Nearly everyone is familiar with the traditional uniform of the American maid: the black dress with white apron and cap has been described in books and magazines for over a hundred years. This was the same uniform worn by maids at Trail End.
The uniform immediately identified the wearer’s place in society and its modest design allowed the maid to fade into the background in any social setting. It was also a sturdy garment and could be worn while performing the dirtiest work. Most uniforms were provided by the employer, thus saving the maid from damaging her own clothes (of which she probably had few).
It was not only maids who wore uniforms at Trail End: the cooks were supposed to as well. Apparently, however, not every cook felt she needed to wear a uniform. In 1933, Eula Kendrick received a letter from Diana Kendrick, describing the newest cook: "I must warn you that she is unprepossessing in appearance … when you come, if you think her attire (a vague colored kitchen apron over her dress) too unsightly, we can talk about uniforms."
Jerry Johnson, Trail End maid, about 1937 (Buell Collection, TESHS)
State Historic Site