The Hired Girl Summary

The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz

It is June 4, 1911, Joan Skraggs has told her teacher, Miss Chandler, she will not be attending school any longer. Joan's father has decided it is more important for her to take care of the house and chickens than for her to have an education. Joan is heartbroken because she loved the school and Miss Chandler. Miss Chandler has given Joan a diary as a going away gift. Joan's own mother had died four years prior and Joan looked to Miss Chandler to fill the void left by this loss.

Joan's father is a hard man who is only concerned with money. Joan's mother had been allowed to keep the money she earned from selling eggs, so Joan thought she should now receive that money. Her father turned her down because he did not have to pay for raising Joan's mother and he had to pay for raising Joan. To get her point across to her father Joan staged a partial strike, she refused to cook for him and her brothers nor would she pick up their rooms for them. After having a yelling match with her father, her father burnt Joan's most prized possessions, her books.

After her books had been burned and she realized her father did not love her, Joan decided to leave the farm for good. Joan had the money for this, because her mother had sewn money into the apron of a doll she had made for Joan.

Joan boarded a train taking it first to Lancaster, then caught a train to Philadelphia, and finally rode a third train, to her final destination of Baltimore. She had planned to find work in Baltimore as a hired girl. A hired girl is a person who does cleaning and maid duties in households of wealthy families. Her plan started out fine, but the train reached Baltimore too late to find a room at a boarding house, so Joan decided to sleep in the park. Solomon Rosenbach found her on the park bench and offered to take her home with him. He assured her he was a respectable man who lived with his parents, fortunately for Joan he was telling her the truth. At this point, Joan had already decided to change her name from Joan Skraggs to Janet Lovelace and she told Solomon she was eighteen years old, instead of her real age of fourteen.

Solomon's mother not only allowed Janet to stay the night, but she also offered her a position as a hired girl. Janet had to pass a trial period first, in order to keep the job. The Rosenbachs had a housekeeper named Malka, who was in her 70's, and Janet had to prove she could live up to the standards Malka had set for the household. Janet did not know the family was Jewish until Mrs. Rosenbach told her they were. She also did not have any prejudices against working for a Jewish family, even though Janet was Catholic. She did have a lot to learn about how a Jewish household was run, for instance they had to store meats and dairy foods separately and even wash the dishes these foods were on in separate sinks and with separate dish clothes. She also had to learn how to help prepare the house for Shabbos and various holidays.

Janet also needed to learn how to behave as a servant. She at first felt she could speak to the family members as she would anyone else. She was told by Malka and Mrs. Rosenbach she could not do this, instead she had to be deferential to the family members. Janet and Mr. Rosenbach had a special relationship; he was impressed by her intelligence and eagerness to learn and read. He allowed her access to the books in the family library and helped to guide her education.

Mirele, the Rosenbachs 12 year old daughter, decided to befriend Janet. She wished for a girl to confide in and to have as a friend, so she took Janet shopping at the department store her father owns. Mrs. Rosenbach did not approve of her daughter and the hired girl going shopping together.

During this time Janet had started to attend mass once again; her father would not allow her to attend church once her mother had died. She even began taking confirmation lessons from Father Horst, who was not happy about Janet working for a Jewish family.

David, the twenty-one year old son of the Rosenbach's, arrived home from New York, where he studied painting. He decided Janet would be a perfect model for a painting of Joan of Arc he was working on. He showed too much attention to Janet and even went so far as to kiss her. She thought she was in love with him. This causes complications in the end, as Janet sneaked one night into his room to tell him her true feelings. The entire family heard them talking, this leads Mrs. Rosenbach to the decision that Janet must be fired. Instead Janet, who Mirele reveals is really Joan and only 14 years old, is assigned to work for the Rosenbach's married daughter. Then Joan is given a scholarship to the school Mr. Rosenbach and some friends are starting. Which is fine with Joan as she will be given the education she always desired.

This book shows the differences between the social-economic classes in 1911. It also gives insight into how people of both Christian and Jewish faiths viewed each other. Joan, because of her innocence and lack of preconceived notions, lacks any prejudice against people of differing circumstance. She shows how a young girl learns to navigate the social and religious paths of her times.

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