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A maid, or housemaid or maidservant, is a female domestic worker. Although now usually found only in the wealthiest households, in the Victorian era domestic service was the second largest category of employment in England and Wales, after agricultural work.
"Maid" in Middle English meant an unmarried woman, especially a young one, or specifically a virgin. These meanings lived on in English until recent times (and are still familiar from literature and folk music), alongside the sense of the word as a type of servant.
Maids were once part of an elaborate hierarchy in great houses, where the retinue of servants stretched up to the housekeeper and butler, responsible for female and male employees respectively. The word "maid" itself is short for "maiden", meaning a girl or unmarried young woman or virgin. Domestic workers, particularly those low in the hierarchy, such as maids and footmen, were expected to remain unmarried while in service, and even highest-ranking workers such as butlers could be dismissed for marrying.
In Victorian England, all middle-class families would have "help", but for most small households, this would be only one employee, the maid of all work, often known colloquially as "the girl".
Historically many maids suffered from Prepatellar bursitis, an inflammation of the Prepatellar bursa caused by long periods spent on the knees for purposes of scrubbing and fire-lighting, leading to the condition attracting the colloquial name of "Housemaid's Knee".
In the contemporary Western world, comparatively few households can afford live-in domestic help, usually relying on cleaners, employed directly or through an agency (Maid service). Today a single maid may be the only domestic worker that upper-middle class households employ, as was historically the case.
In less developed nations, various factors ensure a labour source for domestic work: very large differences in the income of urban and rural households, widespread poverty, fewer educated women, and limited opportunities for the employment of less educated women.
Maids perform typical domestic chores such as laundry, ironing, cleaning the house, grocery shopping, cooking, and caring for household pets. They may also take care of children, although there are more specific occupations for this, such as nanny. In some poor countries, maids take care of the elderly and people with disabilities. Many maids are required by their employers to wear a uniform.
Legislation in many countries makes certain living conditions, working hours, or minimum wage a requirement of domestic service. Nonetheless, the work of a maid has always been hard, involving a full day, and extensive duties.
Maids traditionally have a fixed position in the hierarchy of the large households, and although there is overlap between definitions (dependent on the size of the household) the positions themselves would typically be rigidly adhered to. The usual classifications of maid in a large household are:
In more modest households a single maid-of-all-work or skivvy was often the only staff. It is possible this word originates from the Italian for slave ("schiavo"--"owned person").
One of the most in-depth and enduring representations of the lives of several types of maid was seen in the 1970s television drama Upstairs, Downstairs, set in England between 1903 and 1936. The lives of maids were well represented in the Downton Abbey series, set in England between 1912 and 1926 and shown from 2010 onward.
This section is about an event or subject that may not be current but does not specify the time period.
Foreign women are employed in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Nigeria and United Arab Emirates in large numbers to work as maids or other roles of domestic service, and are often vulnerable to sexual abuse, violence and poor living conditions.