2. Blood money

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Many children from Urk work in the fish trade, shelling anchovies, gutting herring and peeling mussels and shrimps. A dirty job that also does not pay well. It is an added motivation to leave Urk.

At work in the ‘hange’ (Stichting Urker Toal)

The maids call their wages ‘blood money’. After all, the work is not easy. Housekeeping is still very intensive at this time, and on top of that, they also have other duties: watching the children and/or helping in the shop or farm.

Lubbetje van Urk is caring for a widower’s two children at the age of 15 (private collection)

On laundry day, the girls often work from 6am to 10pm. Mariap writes in a letter to a friend:

“On Mondays I start doing the laundry at 6 o’clock. On that day the clothes have to be soaked in bleach, rinsed, whipped out piece by piece, folded, and then carried into a big square basket to the attic, where it’s left to dry at ten o’clock on Monday evening. Now you can understand that I have a super busy day then, as I am the only one in charge of the laundry.”

Excerpt from a letter from Mariap van Urk to Dirkje Snijder (Vrienden van Urk)

Some girls are part of the family and feel spoilt. They are fed well and soon gain some weight. Others eat by themselves in the (unheated) kitchen and are served leftovers.

Some employers test the girl by leaving money under the carpet. Will she nick the coin or give it back? Some are falsely accused of theft.

In the latter case, the girl packs her suitcase and looks for a new position.

Want to know more? You can read the story about Aletta Jacobs’ maid here.