“Out” Girls and “In” Girls – March 1917

The employer who said that the “conditions of farm service in Cumberland farmhouses are so degrading that no respectable girl will enter them” is not telling the truth and he knows it. I should very much like to face that “employer” and give him a tongue-thrashing for telling false tales of what he does not know.”

Let me briefly state the conditions on the one farm I know most intimately. There are two maids — an “out” and an “in” girl. The “out” girl does not do field work (except since labour difficulties, that they have both been keen to earn their armlet and have worked outside when necessary) nor does she do anything in the byre but milk. She washes the milk dishes, and dairy, feeds the pigs and does the kitchen work.

The other is purely a house girl, does a housemaid’s duties, sets the tables, helps to prepare meals, assists with the children, waits at table when necessary. She wears a black dress, cap and apron in the afternoons. The girls have a comfortably furnished and carpeted bedroom up the front stairs in a different part of the building altogether from the men.

When the master and mistress are out in the evenings, the girls are not only allowed but requested to sit in the dining-room or nursery with the children.

I do not see how these conditions could be improved, unless a change of system — such as hostels — might be considered an improvement; or that the farm could be worked — as it cannot in our neighbourhood — without boarding in the house a number of men, most of them very young, four perhaps under military age.

So long as the lads behave themselves decently indoors, we have no control over them whatever in “off “ hours and know nothing of where they go and what they do. Here is the element of danger, but we cannot “abolish the system” nor can we give our girls greater comfort or more security. Mostly they are of very respectable working class — although one gets all sorts.

Our correspondent errs in thinking that I draw my experience entirely from Cumberland farms. I know very well the conditions in certain parts of Scotland too, and the worst case I hinted at occurred in the most prosperous agricultural county of my native land.

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