Designated in 2022 as Exceptional People From the Past.

Nominator: Ellen Power

The economic history of Newfoundland and Labrador is dominated by prominent merchants, politicians and businessmen. But merchant and fishing households alike could not have operated without the help of “the girl”: that is, the domestic servant.

These girls and young women, usually from rural outports, represented the largest sector of waged women’s work from the late 19th century right up to Confederation. Their often invisible labour was essential to the operation of households of all classes. The migratory workforce of outport women in this province was a key part of the Newfoundland and Labrador economy up until the 1950s, and an important part of its social history.

The work of female domestic servants in 19th and 20th century Newfoundland and Labrador was about more than simply keeping households clean. Their labour was the backbone of many aspects of the Newfoundland and Labrador economy. Domestic service is also significant as one of the earliest (and most common) examples of women’s entry into the waged workforce, beyond the unpaid shore work and household labour of previous eras. The large-scale migratory employment of outport domestic servants, just like the more well-known migratory work of men in the resource industries, was a vital part of the pre-Confederation economy.

LEARN MORE > Commemorations Research Paper – Outport Girls and Women in Domestic Service, by Ellen Power


Memories of Outport Girls and Women in Domestic Service

Heritage NL Fieldnote: Three Southern Shore Maids

Botting, Ingrid Marie (2000) “Getting a Grand Falls Job” : migration, labour markets, and paid domestic work in the pulp and paper mill town of Grand Falls, Newfoundland, 1905-1939. Doctoral (PhD) thesis, Memorial University of Newfoundland.

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RC Palace St. John’s as a Servant – Placentia West Heritage Committee

Girls and women employed by the Moravian Mission, Hopedale, 1893. From The Rooms Archives.

Four maids at the Grenfell Mission in St. Anthony, 1908. From The Rooms Archives.

Maid Ellen Oldford Walker from Salvage and unknown maid, St. John’s, circa 1910s. Photo courtesy of Janet Costigan.

Maids Ella Gibbons and Ella Sweetland, Port Union, circa 1920. From The Rooms Archives.

Harrington Harbour maids, circa 1920. From The Rooms Archives.

Mrs. Nadeau and maids, likely on the lower Labrador coast, 1925. From The Rooms Archives.

Evening Telegram advertisements, October 1925.

Evening Telegram advertisements, January 1930.

Cook and maids in North West River, 1930. From The Rooms Archives.

Unknown maid and maid Monica Rice Rossiter from Cape Broyle, St. John’s, early 1930s. Photo courtesy of the Rossiter family.
Maid Janet Hoffe Downer from Change Islands holding Diane Crosbie, St. John’s, 1934. Photo courtesy of Ruby Legge.

Mrs. Clouter and maid, likely on the Bonavista Peninsula, circa 1930s-1940s. From The Rooms Archives.

Western Star advertisements, July 1953.