Before the labor reforms that the twentieth century brought, workers had virtually no protection under the law. Employers did not need legal grounds for terminating employment, and they could demand whatever they wanted from workers. If the workers didn’t like it, employers could simply hire someone else.
Working in domestic service actually offered more security than, say, factory work. Regardless of the long hours, room and board counted for a lot. In the 1890s, people willing to be in service had a good chance of remaining employed. Factory workers actually made lower overall wages, so even a kitchen maid like Charlotte Farrow was not necessarily at the bottom of the ladder.
Charlotte Farrow knows this. It’s one reason why she does not believe that taking her son and running is the best thing for him.
But it’s also true that domestic workers had few options. And this is something that Archie Shepard, footman and driver, knows well.
Charlotte and Archie live caught in conflicting realities. What they want most seems like what is least likely to happen. And therein lies Charlotte’s dilemma.
• What dilemma are you facing right now? What conflicting realities pull you in two directions and make you unsure what is the best thing to do? And where will you find the courage to choose?