|Women in domestic service in Sweden 1920–1940|
|The aim of my paper is to discuss and analyse the consequences of Swedish labour-market policies in terms of domestic servants’ ability to make a living. The study will investigate the importance of variables such as age and civil status, as well as the economic implications of entering domestic service under duress.
Between 1920 and 1940 more Swedish women were employed in domestic service than in any other occupation. Defined as work fit for women, domestic service was associated with long, unregulated working hours and low pay. The lack of personal freedom, a tendency to identify with their employers and an inability to organise often made domestic servants objects of contempt among other workers. They were aware of the need to improve their status and the public’s view of the work they performed. However, their campaigns to increase public awareness of their working conditions, to secure the establishment of reliable employment offices, and agitation for the provision of courses in domestic science met with varying results.
The study of domestic servants presented in the paper is set against a background of growing class and gender tensions during a period of economic unrest and relatively high unemployment. Men and their trade unions feared female competition for the few available jobs, claiming that women’s willingness to work for less undermined the wage rate. The middle classes, recognising the value of domestic servants’ work in their households, were unwilling or unable to pay market wages. Both parties approved of labour- market policies that advocated restricting women’s waged work to domestic service.|