Volume 80, Number 41 | March 10 -16, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

 

Photo by Bob Estremera

Upstairs, downstairs: MHM’s tour provides a rare glimpse of the servants’ quarters — and, as seen above, the kitchen

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Tour: Irish servants’ quarters

It’s 1850 — and if you’re a domestic servant in New York City, chances are you’re female, Irish and a relatively new arrival who came here to escape Ireland’s devastating 1845-1855 Potato Famine (and send money home).

Known colloquially as “Bridgets” or “Biddies,” these women (most in their late teens and 20s) worked long hours and had little or no job security — yet those who performed their tasks well were often poached from their employers by equally wealthy families offering a more competitive wage. No respectable household could function without them, yet Irish servants were characterized as lazy and dishonest. Tension in the house was also magnified by the fact that most employers were Protestant and most servants were Catholic. Although many Irish immigrants came to America with the goal of servitude, it was not a logical progression for them to marry and establish their own domestic lives — rarely revealing their past to children and new acquaintances.

The average wage of an Irish servant in the mid-1800s was — $3-$4 a month, plus room and board. In honor of St. Patrick’s Day, the Merchant’s House Museum will offer the public a rare glimpse into the domestic lives of these Irish domestics.

Visit the rarely seen 4th floor servants’ quarters (“arguably the oldest intact site of Irish habitation in Manhattan” according to TimeOut New York) — and learn about the Tredwell family’s Irish maids who lived and did some of their work there. You’ll also hear about plans to open the servants’ quarters to the public permanently later this year. Tour guides will be on hand to take small groups up and down the stairs, and provide revealing insights that will shed light on the daily routine and lifestyle of these women.

The fourth floor servants’ room will be a re-creation — unlike the rest of the house, which features stunning original furnishings and personal possessions — which offers a rare and intimate glimpse of domestic life from 1835-1865.

Thurs., March 17 through Sat., March 20, from 12-5pm (last tour begins at 4pm). At the Merchant’s House Museum (29 E. Fourth St. btw. Lafayette & Bowery). The Servants’ Quarters Tour is included with regular admission ($10; $5 for students & seniors; free for MHM Members). For info, call 212-777-1089 or visit merchantshouse.org/events. Regular hours are Thurs. through Mon., 12-5pm — when you can take a self-guided tour (with a booklet designed to direct you through the house while revealing facts and anecdotes).

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