Thinking of the Mistress – February 1817

Mrs Catherine Blair says that I argue on the assumption that all mistresses are able and willing to supervise — a false assumption.” Now, I never suggested that the mistress should have personal supervision of the whole conduct of her maids — they would greatly resent it; but she has the right to supervise the conduct of her household in an intimate sense, and she could not have the same right to interfere in the hostel, or even to know how it was conducted. Presumably the “matron” would have full authority, and I still think it would too frequently be impossible to get a suitable person to act.

A more attractive scheme to my mind is that of the grieve’s wife boarding the house servants, according to the advertisement Mrs Blair quotes. She distorts my language when she says she does not agree with me about the “depravity” of farm girls. There is a difference between depravity and weakness, and it would be my most earnest desire not to expose those young undisciplined girls to any unnecessary temptation of situation.

No doubt in many cases, the hostel would work all right; very often, we know, it would work badly. I am quite at one with Mrs Blair in a desire that the whole conditions of rural life should be raised. But this question of hostels for farm servants was introduced by Mrs Blair as an amelioration of the lot of the farmer’s wife. I do not think she meant it so much as a means of raising the standard of life for the servant as for relief to the mistress.

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