Domestic service as upward mobility
There’s been no shortage of talk about the new work skills needed to make it in the 21st century workplace. But who knew the proper care of crystal and stemware or the dos and don’ts of formal dining would be among them?
It turns out that the economic boom of the go-go ’90s has spawned a new demand for domestic help. But fear not, overwhelmed trophy homeowners. Christine Hawthorne stands poised to meet the pent-up need for servants.
The Scottish-born doyenne of household decorum is transforming an 18-room Greek Revival mansion in Southbridge into a training center where, as literature for the Hawthorne House Academy puts it, “domestic service becomes a profession.” By August, Hawthorne hopes to matriculate her first class of high-end help, who will be schooled in every aspect of household management imaginable, and then some.
Hawthorne brushes off the suggestion that her tuition of $4,500 for a four-week session may be met with sticker shock. “As school in Denver charges $10,000, she says. And it’s a drop in the bucket to gain entry to a field where starting pay ranges from $30,000 to $50,000 a year, Hawthorne says. What’s more, because they are live-in positions, “you’re banking quite a bit of your salary,” she says. “And you’re eating the best of food.”
Hawthorne rejects the contention that she’s preparing students for a career in servitude. “We term them household managers, not servants,” she says, adding that there’s nothing demeaning about caring for hearth and home, even if it’s somebody else’s. “We’re all servants to some extent.”A widow who, opting for a euphemism drawn from her experience managing a California winery, gives her age simply as “vintage,” Hawthorne plans to provide placement assistance for her graduates. And she has seen no evidence that demand for household help has softened from the sagging stock market and cooling economy.
But will people ridicule her academy for the real service economy as a bit of a throw-back? “I still have the last laugh,” she sniffs. “There are too many clients out there looking for help.”