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.

“What would you do if someone spilled a Bloody Mary on the silk wall coverings?” challenges Hawthorne. “A lot of people in very expensive homes don’t just have wallpaper.”

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.”

Meet the Author

Michael Jonas

Executive Editor, CommonWealth

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

About Michael Jonas

Michael Jonas has worked in journalism in Massachusetts since the early 1980s. Before joining the CommonWealth staff in early 2001, he was a contributing writer for the magazine for two years. His cover story in CommonWealth's Fall 1999 issue on Boston youth outreach workers was selected for a PASS (Prevention for a Safer Society) Award from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency.

Michael got his start in journalism at the Dorchester Community News, a community newspaper serving Boston's largest neighborhood, where he covered a range of urban issues. Since the late 1980s, he has been a regular contributor to the Boston Globe. For 15 years he wrote a weekly column on local politics for the Boston Sunday Globe's City Weekly section.

Michael has also worked in broadcast journalism. In 1989, he was a co-producer for "The AIDS Quarterly," a national PBS series produced by WGBH-TV in Boston, and in the early 1990s, he worked as a producer for "Our Times," a weekly magazine program on WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) in Boston.

Michael lives in Dorchester with his wife and their two daughters.

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.”