Social and cultural changes

The Douglases lived in a time when changes in society and culture made hiring, managing, and keeping servants more difficult. Although domestic service often paid better than factory or department store work, the lack of personal freedom, unpredictable and long hours, and social stigma discouraged women from taking these positions.

As a result, employers frequently turned to immigrants and minority populations as a source of help. By the 1920s, the servant pool became even more limited due to World War I and immigration restrictions.

While middle class housewives stopped hiring live-in servants in favor of new household appliances and day workers, wealthy families continued to hire live-in servants to illustrate social status and maintain their larger homes and estates.

Iowa, like other Midwestern states, had smaller servant populations than the Northeast and South. In Linn County, many Bohemian and German immigrants, along with American-born girls, worked as servants. Having male servants signified a high social position; therefore, men generally filled positions that required them to be visible to family and guests such as the butler or chauffeur.

The lives of individual servants often can be difficult to trace. In some cases, city directories and census records may provide the only source of information. Fortunately, the stories of several servants at Brucemore have been preserved through sources like diaries, photos, letters, account books, and other documents.

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