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Parisian maid at the turn of the 18th to the 19th century

As a maid or maid a standing in the services of a high-ranking, most noble Lady rule is called since the 17th century. She was not necessarily of noble descent herself, but always of lower rank, and served the mistress of the house in her private chambers, for example when dressing. What was more important for the authority to issue instructions was the class social rank difference than the actual employment relationship . As a rule, the appointment as a maid was seen as a social advancement. At aristocratic courts, where the term chambermaid ( French fille de chambre ) was more common, she was subordinate to the chambermaid (French femme de chambre ) and was higher in rank and office than the chambermaid (French chambrière ). In bourgeois houses, these hierarchies were then often adapted analogously. Her male counterpart was the valet .

The maid is a popular figure in literature and a popular role or role in spoken theater , in Singspiel and in opera .


The noun Zofe or Zoffe , first attested in the 17th century in Saxony , later also written Zoofe or Zohfe , is derived, according to DWB and Duden , from the central German verb zoffen (to hesitate) , which has been in use since the 16th century and which has now disappeared, a subsidiary form of the earlier dialect verb zaufen (to step back, to go back), which is also included in the early New High German term Zoffmagd, which was only documented in the 16th century. The latter was a servant or attendant who followed her mistress on the foot. She was therefore also referred to as the follow-up girl and glossed over as a night stepper .

Since the word maid loud Adelung and Campe was customary for the Dress Train, and the Zoffmagd previously referred to as Zochjungfrau, Zott (el) maid or, in the Alsatian dialect, Ketschmagd, which according to DWB to a sloppy Afterwards Stroll and the dragging of clothes indicates, this explanation for the origin is not excluded.

Other sources quote the Central German verb zofen , which was derived from mhd. Zâfen (decorate, maintain).


In order to take up the job and the status of a maid, certain prerequisites and a certain previous training were necessary. Besides beauty, grace and taste in clothes and jewelry some entertainment talent and wit, was understanding and education demand. Good behavior, a dignified demeanor and tact, as well as a cheerful nature, characterized by gentleness, kindness and modesty, should be among the virtues of a maid. Essentially nothing has changed in that regard over the centuries.


The activities and duties of a maid or chambermaid were of course subject to certain social changes and fashions over the centuries.

A maid had to help her mistress with body care ( morning toilet ) and with dressing and advise her on choosing and putting on jewelry and clothes. This also included tasks such as maintaining the cloakroom , sewing and hairdressing. Serving the meals as well as planning and organizing celebrations were also typical maid tasks. The maid often acted as a broker or messenger of messages and sometimes she was also allowed to negotiate with traders and merchants . She was a companion and companion at festivities and on trips. Restraint, appropriate manners and the conduct of a pleasant conversation were expected.

Social status

The position of a maid was in great demand among the young women in all epochs, as it was associated with a certain social status and social advancement through the spatial proximity to higher classes. In medieval feudal society , for example, young noble girls were given to the royal courts for training. There they should be formed into noble ladies and, if possible, find a future husband. In later epochs, these basic ideas were spread analogously in their respective contemporary form in the bourgeois classes.

The maids were subject to a strict duty of supervision, which sometimes included protecting them from the pressure of the men and keeping them from rash and rule breaks. The working hours were almost unlimited, and according to the rules of the respective class society, one's own rights were low. In contrast, the rulers continued to instruct their maidservant in the applicable manners, the young women learned housekeeping and economics. They also received free board and lodging, remuneration and the chance to get married or to be married into a higher class.

In literature, visual and performing arts

Maid instruction from Lothar Meggendorfer 's funny picture folder, 2.1890


See also


  • Joachim Bumke - Court culture. Literature and Society in the High Middle Ages , Deutscher Taschenbuch-Verlag, Munich 2005, 11th edition ISBN 3-423-30170-8
  • Alwin Schultz - The courtly life at the time of the Minnesingers , Magnus-Verlag, Essen 1991, 2nd volumes ISBN 3888511496

Web links

Wiktionary: Maid  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Günther Drosdowski, Paul Grebe and others: Duden. Etymology. Dictionary of origin of the German language , Bibliographisches Institut AG, 1963, Mannheim, ISBN 3-411-00907-1 , p. 784
  2. Johann Christoph Adelung: Grammatical-critical dictionary of the High German dialect