Sunday, February 9, 2020

Servant's Life at Meadow Brook

Yesterday my girlfriend, Sandy, and I spent a delightful afternoon at Meadow Brook Hall in Rochester, MI.  It's the home of Matilda Dodge Wilson, formerly the wife of John Dodge [automobile magnate] who died in 1920.  She married Alfred Wilson in 1925 and they built and moved into Meadow Brook Hall in November 1929.  The Wilson's gave the mansion and property to Oakland University who make it available for public tours and events.

If you've followed my blog for any length of time you know I've blogged about Meadow Brook several times [8 to be exact], but I haven't visited the mansion since March 2016 - too long!  

I've gone on a "Behind the Scenes" tour a couple of times but never blogged about it because photography wasn't permitted.  When I read about the "Servant's Life Tour", it was different so I decided to go. 

Sandy and I entered the mansion from the servant's side entrance.  The hour and a half tour began at 11:30 a.m.  We were escorted by a volunteer in maid's attire to the servant's dining room where we filled out a fictitious employment application.   We were told the date was February 8, 1930 - a few weeks after the family moved in.

A volunteer who went by the fictitious name of Mrs. Farley, portrayed the role of the head housekeeper, whose real name was Bernice Whitaker.  I hope Mrs. Whitaker wasn't as rigid as Mrs. Farley who is standing in front of the fire place in the servant's living room.

In the above photo Mrs. Farley was reading some of the applications.  I smiled when one of the men in attendance applied for the position of chauffeur, and said he had previously worked at The Whitney mansion in Detroit!  ;-)  Another fun question on the application was "Can you make a proper cup of tea?"

Since Sandy and I were one of the first to arrive, we had time to look around in the servant's living room.  I didn't see any signs that said no photography, and Mrs. Farley hadn't yet stated there'd be no pictures on the tour, so I took my liberties. I couldn't resist the television Mrs. Wilson provided for her servants with the tiny screen from the late 1940's.  I think that's a record player on the opposite side.

Below is one of the maid's uniforms, and in the display case on the table are examples of collars and cuffs that would have been worn on the uniform and soaps used for cleaning them.  Mrs. Wilson provided the uniforms that she ordered from Saks Fifth Avenue, but the maids were responsible for getting their own collars and cuffs.

I'm kicking myself for not taking a picture of the dining room.  A large rectangle table and sideboard were in the room.  The table could probably seat 12 servants when fully extended. There were 50 servants so they had to eat in shifts.   

Christmas was wonderful for the servants.  Mrs. Wilson personally set the table for their Christmas dinner with her good linens and china.  Everyone got a poinsettia for their room, and a turkey if they lived off site.

Above is a photo of some of the staff.  The servants worked 5 1/2 days a week, and their pay was based on the importance of their job.  There were no pay raises until after six months of employment.  The matriarchal system was used rather than patriarchal.  The only room in the mansion under male control was the dining room run by the butler.

Mrs. Wilson was in her office on Mondays between 11:00 - 12:00 for the servants to place supply orders needed for the following week. 

Each maid had their own private 9 x 11 bedroom with a sink, but they had to share bathrooms.  Mrs. Wilson's secretary had a three room suite [bedroom, private bathroom and sitting room] on the same floor as Mrs. Wilson, but in the opposite wing from the family bedrooms.

When we finished the tour, tea and scones were served on the servants porch just off their living room.  [It has been enclosed and winterized since Mrs. Wilson lived in the mansion.]

The price of the event was $35 and well worth it.

A volunteer played the role of the head butler [of which there were two].  Like his counterpart, Mrs. Farley, he shared a lot of interesting information.

In addition to two butlers, there was one head housekeeper, one nanny, two chauffeurs, one head cook [over time Mrs. Wilson had three ladies who filled that role - one German, one Danish, and one French].  There were no valets - Mr. Wilson and sons Danny and Richard dressed themselves.  Mrs. Wilson had a Ladies' Maid who was also her close confidant. There were two housemen [maintenance workers], a head gardener, a switchboard operator, and a kennel manager [the family raised Pekingese dogs].

Two volunteers in the flower room located in the servant's area.  

The maid on the right [above photo] escorted us from the servant's area down the long hall [pictured below] to the gift shop.

I purchased a tin of tea.  There were two choices: Earl Grey and English Breakfast.   It is blended for Meadow Brook by Oliver Pluff & Co. of Charleston, S.C.

Then Sandy and I left through the main entrance of the mansion.  If you live in the area and like history, I highly recommend this tour.  Sandy and I really enjoyed it.

And last but not least, I have to show you the cute pair of socks Sandy brought me!


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