The Lady’s Maid



As the personal servant of m’lady, the lady’s maid occupied a high rung on the servant’s ladder. Like the housekeeper and cook, her day began a little later than that of the housemaids. Her first task in the morning was to wake her mistress with tea (usually at 8am) and lay out her clothes for the morning. Depending on her activities, the lady of the house might change her dress as often as five times a day, and in the Victorian era, with cumbersome corsets and large hoop skirts, help was usually required.


The maid assisted her mistress in dressing, undressing and redressing, maintaining a pleasant and willing demeanour throughout. She was expected to be au-fait with the latest fashion and hairdressing styles, matching colours and styles to her ladyship’s figure and complexion. She also maintained her ladyship’s wardrobe and jewellery, and made and administered her beauty lotions.


Needlework skills were essential to the job and many lady’s maids had formal training in dress-making and millinery. The successful maid was expected to be honest, not prone to gossip, and neat in person (fringes, for example, were considered untidy). She should read and write well, as her job might involve reading aloud to her mistress. To this purpose, The Complete Servant recommended that, “she will, at her leisure, practise reading aloud, from the best authors… avoiding, alike, the dull monotony of the school girl, the formal affectation of the pedant” (1825).

Olive Sharkey 1998,30

While the lady’s maid dressed well and might receive her ladyship’s cast-offs, her clothes were always worn a little plainer, with details such as sashes or bows removed to leave no doubt as to her station in life.



Lady’s maids at Emo Court

With her airs and graces, the lady’s maid was often an unpopular figure among the other servants, and her intimate relationship with the mistress made her suspected of tale-bearing.  Yet the lady’s maid at Emo Court enjoyed considerable perks. She regularly travelled with the Countess on trips to Dublin and London, and even enjoyed the occasional trip to the theatre. On a visit to Dublin in 1782, for example, the Countess and her friend Miss Herbert, finding they had booked one too many social engagements, “cut the opera and sent our maids to the play instead” (Gleanings from an Old Portfolio I.189).


The lady’s maid at Emo Court also enjoyed better accommodation than the lower servants, with a room on the first floor, rather than in the attic, and more items of furniture. At Emo, a second room for the visiting lady’s maid was more comfortable still, boasting a feather bed instead of the usual lumpy horsehair mattress.