Meadow Brook Magazine Blog: The View from Downstairs

Beatrice Whitaker was Meadow Brook Hall’s head maid. Matilda Wilson hired her in 1929 right before The Hall opened. During her time as head maid, she kept a record of what it was like working for the Wilson family. These are her own words:

I found Mrs. Wilson to be thoughtful, considerate and kind.

Mrs. Wilson was not afraid of work. She was capable of doing anything in the house. One time when we were without a laundress, and in fact short of help throughout the Hall, and the few of us were doing extra work, Mrs. Wilson said: “Beatrice, I am going to do some washing and will do your a.m. uniform, but you will have to iron them and do your personal laundry.”

Another time I saw her scrub the tile floor of the side entrance on her hands and knees. She would not ask the help to do chores if it was not their regular work.

There were dinners and Sunday night formal suppers given by Frances and her mother. Holiday dinners and of course all birthdays were observed. They were formal and lavish.

Holiday dinners for the employees were outstanding too: The table set with some of Mrs. Wilson’s special linens, dishes and of course a center piece from the greenhouse. Wish I could recall some of the brand names of the different dishes which had been loaned to our dining room for these occasions, but there were so many sets and different kinds, much more elaborate than any of us had had the opportunity to dine from I am sure.

Mary, an employee of many years (in fact for Mrs. Dodge before she became Mrs. Wilson) and Mrs. Wilson herself brought all of this service on a teacart and the family elevator from a huge vault for dishes only. They were always trailed by Ming Toy, a champion Pekingese. I believe Ming was brought over from England.

Upon each occasion something appeared thatĀ  I had not seen before. There were two more very large vaults for silver service and table decorations. One was used regularly by the butler for everyday service. The second was for special occasions.

It took three men about three days or more to inventory and appraise the table settings for insurance. These men were from one of Detroit’s prominent china stores. Many of the items could not be replaced. Among the best service of the flatware was a gold dessert service of spoons and forks. These were a gift by Daniel to his mother. Another outstanding service was filigree silver dessert plates. One of the select tablecloths was valued for at least $25,000.

This article appears in the Fall 2013 issue of Meadow Brook Magazine. The magazine publishes bi-annually and Meadow Brook Members receive it as part of their membership.

 

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  1. I like this idea.

  2. My grandmother Bertha Welker worked for the family too. My grandmother came to America, legally in the early 1900’s thinking 1912. My mother told me she worked for awhile when she first came over. she accompanied the family to vacation home also. Meadowbrook was the place. Not sure how long she worked for them. My mother was born 1918 so probably before that. i remember she said she wore pointy toed shoes and ran down stairs fast. My grandmother said that is why she had corns on her feet….