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What is a Scullery Maid?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 18 October 2014
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A scullery maid is a maid of all work, responsible for a wide variety of tasks ranging from cleaning pots and pans in the kitchen to scouring the hallways. The position has largely faded from most households, but historically, she would have been at the bottom of the household hierarchy, and her work would have been grueling and largely thankless. Former scullery maids interviewed about their work by historical organizations likened their positions to a form of slavery.

In the complex organization of servants within a household, the scullery maid would have been soundly at the bottom, reporting to the kitchen maid and the cook. She was responsible for a wide range of tasks, and because of her low status, she would have taken orders from many other servants in the house, while the residents of the house would rarely, if ever, actually interact with the scullery maid. As a member of the “downstairs” staff, these maids were invisible and very hard-working.

Typically, scullery maids were among the first to rise, because they had to prepare the house for everyone else to wake up. One of the first tasks she would have been lighting the fires in the house and taking out the chamberpots, and she would also have lit the stove in the kitchen and started to prepare for breakfast. In many households, the scullery maid waited on upper ranking servants, setting the table for them, bringing out food, and clearing out afterward.

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After breakfast, scullery maids did the heavy cleaning work in the kitchen, ranging from scouring pots to mopping the floors, and they would have mopped floors, beaten rugs, dusted shelves, and performed a variety of other cleaning tasks in the house. A person in this position might also work on the household laundry, depending on how the house was organized.

The average scullery maid would have been busy from the pre-dawn hours until well after dark, and because of her low position, her rate of pay and job-related perks would have been limited. Many got little more than room, board, and emergency medical care, with few days off and no chance for any of the lucrative leftovers which upper-ranking servants could keep, barter, or sell to supplement their wages.

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