From Morning To Night: Domestic Service at Maymont and the Gilded-Age South (Hardcover) Review

From Morning To Night: Domestic Service at Maymont and the Gilded-Age SouthFrom the three quotes with which she begins her book, throughout the anecdotes and letter passages she uses to bring the story to life, to the final tribute to Maymont employees in her conclusion, Elizabeth O'Leary has put together a book that appeals on several different levels.
Taken on the surface, it's a day-to-day picture of what made life run smoothly in a grand home of the Gilded Age. Pretty fascinating stuff, for us today with our instantly-gratifying microwaves, prepared foods, washing machines and dryers!
One level down, it's a microcosm of a society. In this level, the reader gets to meet the individuals who peopled that society, and O'Leary helps us understand where they're coming from by taking us back to Civil War times and before. We get to see their world relatively dispassionately, through the eyes of, alternately, upper-crust folks like the Dooleys and the African-Americans who worked as domestics.
Finally, this book is a quiet tribute to a quiet, newly-freed generation of folk who earned their living through hard work, passed on solid values to their children and, ultimately, helped "shape the American experience for generations to come." The reader quickly begins to feel the respect the author gained for Maymont employees during her conversations with their descendants.
I liked the way O'Leary put this together -- a sociological study brought to life skillfully with snippets of stories that engross.

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Product Description:
Step off the lush carpet and push through the swingingdoor of the butler's pantry to enter the bustling realm of domesticworkers at Maymont House from 1893 to 1925. In From Morning to Night,Elizabeth O'Leary takes the reader behind the scenes in the opulentmansion of the Richmond multimillionaire James H. Dooley and his wife,Sallie. Drawing upon personal letters, business and governmentdocuments, and numerous oral histories of older Richmonders--bothblack and white-O'Leary examines the parallel and divergentviewpoints of server and served in this Virginia version of"Upstairs/Downstairs."
Raised in slave-owning households before the Civil War, the Dooleysexperienced the transformation of the master/mistress-slaverelationship to that of employer-employee. In the late nineteenth andearly twentieth centuries, they relied on a full complement ofdomestic servants to maintain their lavish residences andlifestyle. In turn, numerous men and women--predominantly AfricanAmerican--labored to meet the day-to-day challenges of running anelaborate household. At the same time, they negotiated the era'sincreasing Jim Crow restrictions and, during precious hours off-duty,helped support families, churches, and the larger black community.
By examining the formalities and practices of the Dooleys at home and by giving a presence and voice to their "help," From Morning to Night offers insights into domestic and social systems at work within and beyond the upper-class household in the Gilded Age South.

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