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End of Domestic Work

"This is certainly history!"

The Mount Holyoke College Trustees voted to eliminate domestic work in late May 1913, but did not tell students or families until December of that year. The Trustees gave the classes of 1915, 1916, and 1917 a choice: either pay $350 tuition and continue with the domestic work system, or pay $425 tuition without a domestic work obligation. The classes of 1918 and onwards had to pay the higher tuition, but could work for a wage. The new, higher tuition covered an increase in paid domestic labor to replace student work.

Student Reactions

The student editors of the 1915 Llamarada included a satire in the yearbook called "How the Other Half Will Live, or, Life on the Four-Hundred-and-Fifty-Dollar Basis," predicting an influx of rich and snobbish young women at the college once students would no longer be required to do chores. It compared a day in the life of the two different classes of students Mount Holyoke would have from then on, represented by Miss Wealth and the Domestic Work Girl. The piece ended by claiming that the end of Domestic Work meant that “the strife of capital and labor will be introduced here as well as in the great, wide, world.”

The fear expressed in “How the Other Half Will Live” was echoed more sincerely in a letter Jennie Winslow (class of 1916) wrote home after she learned that Domestic Work was ending. Winslow had to work to pay her tuition at Mount Holyoke, which was not the case for many of her classmates. She feared that when only the students who had to work would work, Mount Holyoke’s democracy would be lost.

Others felt less unease. Katherine Condon (class of 1914) wrote to her uncle about the change with only the comment “This is certainly history!” Ellen Adams’s (class of 1915) father wrote that the change was a surprise, but probably a better system.

Maids Move In

None of their letters mention who would fill the labor vacuum. As a result of the end of domestic work, the college started employing live-in maids. The trustees voted in February of 1916 to increase the rooms available for maids in the residence halls, which would have been Brigham, Pearsons, Porter, Safford, Wilder, and Mead. This vote likely created the maids quarters in these dorms.

Renee Pelletier, Class of 2019