I expect that a number of my (female) readers may find the concept of a ‘Useful Man’ amusing. I have no intention of participating in that debate, no matter how hysterical. I have my own private thoughts on the matter, which will remain just that – private.
Once upon a time, for those in need of their services, a Useful Man could be purchased. The price was ‘thirty or forty dollars a month.’ The time was the early 1900’s. The place was America (but no doubt the Brits had their own equally useful men.)
This fascinating information was gleaned from Millionaire Households and their Domestic Economy, with hints upon Fine Living, a wonderfully useful book written by Mary Elizabeth Carter in 1909.
What sort of person is this ‘useful man’ retained by Millionaire Households? According to the book he ‘needs an angelic disposition to get along, and deserves canonization as a saint when his earthly probation is over.’ This is clear from the job description, which is summed up by the following ominous sentences: ‘his individual duties are many and varied, his odd jobs legion. They usually comprise what no one else can or will do’, and ‘he is the universal pack-horse of the house.’ He must be an early riser, as ‘unless he is up betimes he can never get through with his ante-breakfast work,’ for ‘he must perform a large proportion of them [his duties] before the family are astir.’ The physical requirements are ‘a cast-iron back with arms and hands of steel.’ Oh! And, like most important servants, he was expected to remain unmarried, lest he develop other priorities.
The detailed breakdown of work of this angelic and useful man (hereinafter also called ‘the exhausted man’) takes up thirteen pages of this book. I hereby give you my succinct summary.
• His regular duties comprise window and sidewalk, piazza and balcony cleaning, the vestibule in a town house,
• the getting up of wood and coal for kitchen, laundry, and for all open fires over the entire establishment,
• trunk lifting, ice breaking and carrying, bedroom supplies of cold water at night,
• boot and shoe polishing,
• running upon errands.
• He may be required to lend a hand in turning the laundry mangle when the maids are doing plain things, because the mangle requires a strong and muscular arm.
• Of course the useful man must be an expert scrubber. Often the tiled floors of the lower hall fall to his charge.
• At odd times he is called to the pantry to assist in washing costly engraved crystal, cut glass, and priceless Sevres.
• He carries the garbage from the pantry to the outside can.
• In some houses he is obliged to …don a braided coat decorated with gold buttons, scarlet waist- coat, velvet knee-breeches, silk stockings, patent-leather pumps with gold buckles, immaculate linen and white gloves, and thus arrayed ascend to the main hall or to the dining-room there to lengthen the line of liveried men, and perform a part in the society's endless drama … and help usher into the house the world of wealthy and fashionable people.
• Fires form an important part of the useful man’s service.
• In a summer home where guests are constantly coming and going, the handling of baggage is a labor in itself.
• temporary repairing or tinkering when the carpenter is not on hand.
Luckily for us, this gem of a book also contains some recipes, and I have chosen one as the recipe for the day. Note that the sum mentioned here would represent 2-3 days wages for the Useful Man.
A Three Dollar Recipe for Waffles.
Thick sweet cream 1 quart.
Sweet milk 1 pint.
Flour, sifted, 1 quart.
Baking-powder ½ teaspoonful.
Salt ¼ teaspoonful.
Sugar 1 teaspoonful.
Eggs, whites and yolks beaten separately, 6.
Throw together milk, sugar, and salt. Beat yolks of eggs and add cream and well-whisked whites stiff. Beat well and add milk, etc. Mix the baking-powder through the flour before stirring all together. The mixture should be a thick batter. Bake in well-buttered, hot waffle-irons.
Quotation for the Day.
I sat at a table where were rich food and wine in abundance, and obsequious attendance, but sincerity and truth were not; and I went away hungry from the inhospitable board.
Henry David Thoreau.