Robert, A Nichols Family Servant

The Butler’s Pantry at the Nichols House

By Jacklyn Linsky, Research Intern, Spring 2015

From 1891-1893, the Nichols family hired a servant named Robert whom they believed to be an excellent employee until 1893. In a letter from May 25, 1892, Elizabeth Nichols writes, “With two horses and a stable to take care of Robert will not have much time for other work but he seems willing and anxious to do all he can and I am glad that he is here”[i]. But in 1893, Robert had an argument with Elizabeth.  According to family letters, Robert was pocketing money that should have gone towards care of the animals. Elizabeth decided that it would be best to fire Robert immediately and told Arthur it was the right thing to do. To prove the truth to her husband, Elizabeth does some investigating and writes: “July 10th, he asked for money to pay for shoeing, feed, express etc. so I told him to give me a written statement which he did, and I accordingly gave him $10.24 of which $2.80 was to pay a meat bill which he brought. I have enquired and find that he paid the latter, but the items for feed are incorrect and where he put down $3.16 for feed from July 1st to 10th, he not only did not pay it but the charge on the miller’s book is only $2.55”[ii].

During his tenure as the Nichols family’s chore-man, Robert’s situation with the family was reliable and he was paid more than the other servants. In fact, Elizabeth had thought about raising Robert’s wages in a letter to Arthur stating, “I would not bother you about this only I want to know whether you think best to pay more than the $50 per month. I know that the ordinary wages for a working man here is $1.50, without board, and as he is getting more than that I doubt the wisdom of going still higher”[iii]. However, Robert did not believe that he was being treated fairly by the Nichols family. Robert was upset at the idea that he was not allowed to take his meals at the table, however, no other servants did. Robert was also not paid for four days that he took off to see his family, although he claims that part of this time was spent working for Arthur. Robert felt as though he should have been paid for the work he did for Arthur.

Unlike female servants, male servants did not live in the house. This gave them more freedom in the sense that the family they worked for could not call on them at all times. They did not live in the house because it was considered inappropriate to have male servants living in the home with young women. Robert was in a unique situation in that he did not live in their home, but for a period of time lived on the Nichols’ Cornish, New Hampshire property with his family.

In general, the Nichols family treated their servants well. The three live-in servants (a cook and two maids) each had their own small rooms on the fourth floor across from the youngest daughters’ bedrooms. In 1919, Elizabeth wrote, “I am considering what must be done to the house besides the cleaning, and the first will be to have the maids’ rooms in order. For that some painting must be done as I looked at them when I was in town and found them pretty shabby”[iv]. In the end, Robert was fired from the Nichols family’s service and was replaced by Eugene Saunderson[v].

Sources

Hutchinson, June. “The Back of House or Below the Stairs: The Nichols Family Maids”

Hutchinson, June. “The Back of House or Below the Stairs: Male Employees in the Nichols Household”

[i] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 25 May 1892, folder 32, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters-Elizabeth Nichols.

[ii] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 16 July 1893, folder 34, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

[iii] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 5 July 1893, folder 33, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

[iv] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 9 September 1919, folder 49, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

[v] Letter, Elizabeth Nichols to Arthur Nichols, 24 July 1893, folder 34, Schlesinger Library, Nichols Family Letters- Elizabeth Nichols.

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Author: Nichols House Museum

The Nichols House Museum's mission is: To preserve and interpret the 1804 townhouse that was from 1885 until 1960 the home of Rose Standish Nichols, landscape gardener, suffragist and pacifist. The house was built by Jonathan Mason and is attributed to Charles Bulfinch. The museum educates visitors by providing a unique glimpse into the domestic life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries on Boston's historic Beacon Hill.