Technically, as the fifth installment in the narrative surrounding the house at 312 East Agincourt, this might more accurately be billed “The way things work”. I’m interested in using the Archer home at 312 to interpret several aspects of community history, one part of which has been the story of Aidan Archer, industrialist, Progressive businessman and all round civic-minded guy. If these are clichés, I might be one, too. But the moment I “finished” the house plan, it was obvious that one room held the greatest potential for its interpretation. Not the suite of social spaces, where Mr and Mrs Archer entertained their friends and business associates. Not the master bedroom, or even the guest bedroom—and the long list of those who had spent the night. Not the kitchen and any speculation about the changing American diet. My eyes fell immediately on the small bedroom at the northeast corner of the main floor: the maid’s room.
I don’t know about you and yours, but domestic servants were not a part of my family’s experience. Well, actually, they were, because my grandmother had been one! But that’s a different story for another day. The Archers were sufficiently well off to afford a domestic; such assistance would have enabled Aidan and Cordelia to extend their civic-mindedness. It might also have affected their parenting and their children’s worldview. Perhaps we’ll eventually get to those insight-laden details. For the moment, however, I’m curious about the person who occupied that servant’s room just off the kitchen—probably a young woman, possibly an emigrant, given the dates involved, 1910-1915. And that’s the reason there is a postcard of the Gamla Uppsala Belltower at the top of this entry.
Creating the Archers’ maid won’t be easy. First, I’m not a woman. And, as much as I might have enjoyed living in 1910, I didn’t. Both of which make my speculations questionable. With that not inconsiderable caveat, here is my strategy:
- A female domestic emigrant circa 1910 would more likely have been Irish, Norwegian or Swedish, depending on the urban area they chose. I’m opting for Swedish.
- What would have been her motive for emigrating? Size and situation of family would be factors. So she will have a “hometown” and several relatives still in Sweden. I’m drawn to Goteborg/Gothenberg, Sweden’s second largest city and largest seaport. It was the port of embarkation for Swedes leaving the country.
- The as yet unnamed “she” will not have arrived directly in Agincourt, but more likely have followed a more complicated trajectory, with at least one intermediate stop—how about Chicago, which had a large Scandinavian community.
- Secure and happy in her new position, how might she have interacted with the Archers, especially the children whose ages were still in single digits?
- What was the daily and weekly schedule for a domestic? How many hours did they serve? What opportunities existed for private life and socializing beyond the family? Did Agincourt have a Lutheran church at the time? Did she date?
- So far from home and from other Swedish speakers, what might have been her state of mind? I see a lot of correspondence, both ways, between her family still at home and a single daughter several thousand miles away.
- What were the circumstances of her departure?
And here is my salvation: That correspondence (letters and “postals” in the vernacular of the day) would chronicle her period of employment. Now all I have to do is learn Swedish and turn-of-the century orthography and acquire a bunch of century-old Swedish postcards. Forgery isn’t easy.