Tag Archives: servants

The young girls and the temptations of St. John’s


July 17, 1883

Girls Friendly Society

Servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.”

Servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.”

On July 17, 1883 an independent chapter of Girls Friendly Society (GFS) was formally established in St. John’s, Newfoundland. The members of the Society were young women in domestic service. The primary goal of the society was to help the young domestic servants working in the big houses in St. John’s arrange recreational activities on their day off.

It appears that the original founders of the society were quite concerned about the young women, with all of the temptations that the city offered. Such was their concern that one of the activities of the individual branches of the GFS was to send members out to meet the new arrivals at the harbor or train station. If required the new arrivals would be offered assistance in obtaining lodging and work.

The GFS under its own constitution was determined that the domestic servants should “maintain a high standard of purity.” They were most determined to keep these young women of the streets and participating in respectable activities. One of the central rules was that “No girl who has not borne a virtuous character to be admitted as a Member; such character being lost, the Member to forfeit her card.”

gfscardThe constitution also stated that the GFS would “obtain for every working girl of unblemished character a friend in a class above her own.”

The Society was originally founded on January 1, 1875 in England. This group was affiliated with the Church of England and run along diocesan lines. The Archbishop of Canterbury was the first patron of the organization later being replaced by Queen Victoria.

A report in 1903 on the activities of the GFS in Newfoundland stated:

“In spite of storm and stress of weather, and long, cold evenings, the Members and Candidates seem to hold on their way with meetings and lectures, sales of work and classes, and their eagerness for books is quite touching.”  

By 1910 the GFS had expanded a report on the Society read:

“In Newfoundland the Society continues its successful work, and the Bishop (Church of England) has keen interest in it. There are four Branches and a large number of Candidates. Quarterly meetings, weekly social meetings, classes, lectures, etc. are held. There is still an energetic Members’ Committee at St. John’s, and the Anniversary is kept on the same day as in England.”

Recommended Reading: History of the Girls’ Friendly Society Compiles by Agnes L. Money. New and Revised Edition, 1911. London Wells Gardner, Darton & Co., LTD. 44 Victoria Street, Westminister, S.W. http://anglicanhistory.org/women/money_gfs1911/

Females engaged as servants in the fishery

Archival Moment

May 5, 1884

An “apartment”  for the females engaged as servants in the fishery

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives A 44 1; "Labrador home-built 'floaters' beating North..."

Photo Credit: The Rooms Provincial Archives A 44 1; “Labrador home-built ‘floaters’ beating North…”

The women of Newfoundland have long had a place on the fishing boats that have gone to the sea. These fishing boats were often small vessels, with limited space, that allowed for little privacy for the crew, especially for the women.

On May 5, 1884; A. J. Pearce, Sub collector at the Custom House in Twillingate responsible for  recording the arrival and departure of all vessels, inspecting the cargo of the vessels and insuring that all paid the required duties and taxes made it known that he wanted the privacy of women aboard vessels protected.

Under the headline “Notice to Schooner Holders” he posted in the local newspaper an announcement that read:

“Sailing Vessels carrying females engaged as servants in the fishery or as passengers, between Newfoundland and Labrador shall be provide with such separate cabin or apartments as will afford at least, fifty cubic feet for each of such females and the owners of such vessels shall provide for such females sufficient accommodation for sanitary purposes.” (Section I and V of the said act)

Captain’s of the vessels were warned if they did not conform to this new regulation they could face “a one hundred dollar fine.” 

The regulations were largely put in place for the women involved in the Labrador fishery, especially those involved in the ‘floater fishery.’ The Labrador fishery consisted of ‘floaters’ those who lived on their boats and fished along the Labrador coast.  Floaters brought their catch back to Newfoundland for processing. Women involved in the floater fishery were typically young and single, and their primary responsibility was cooking for the fishermen.

The regulations that were introduced describing the space to be provided as “a separate cabin or apartment’ was somewhat exaggerated. The reality was that the small space (50 cubic feet), below deck, tended to be just large enough to curl up into and sleep. The wall of this so called ‘apartment’ would be an old wool blanket.

In 1900, approximately 1200 women –one-third of the fishing crews- travelled in small schooners from the communities of Bay Roberts, Brigus, Carbonear, Harbour Grace and Western Bay to work as hired “girls” in the Labrador fisheries.

Captain Alexander Ploughman, of Ship Cove, Trinity Bay in describing the space allotted for women wrote:

“In most cases the accommodation is very meager being merely a screen dividing the female compartment from that of the men…in many cases they [women] are lying around like so many cattle.”

No matter what the cost of making the space for the women, Captain James Burden of Carbonear was determined to provide separate accommodation because he wrote:

 “I cannot think of prohibiting females as we have to make our fish on the Labrador. Two females are better than two men in many cases, and not half the expense.”

Recommended Archival Collection: At the Rooms Provincial Archives explore GN 1/3A Office of the Governor 1899-1901. Many of the despatchers make reference to the role of women in the fishery,. including GN 1/3/A   Despatch 265 , Employment of girls in Labrador aboard green fish schooners. GN 1/3/A Despatch 94, Girls employed in green fish catches, Labrador and GN 1/3/A Despatch 112      the Employment of female labour in the Labrador fisheries.

Recommended Website: Costal Women in Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation. This virtual exhibit portrays the women who lived and worked in the coastal communities of Newfoundland and Labrador prior to Confederation http://www.mun.ca/mha/cw/index.html