THE LEGAL STATUS OF SERVANT-GIRLS.
fettered by one, there seems to be some doubt as to whether she can make a valid contract that will bind anybody at all to pay the doctor. The law is not well settled. It may be said, however, generally, that she can not bind her husband, because the obligation of a husband to furnish medical attendance does not extend beyond his wife and own children, and he is under no obligations to provide it for a servant. And, as such attendance for a servant can hardly be called a necessary which the husband must provide the wife, she can not be considered as his agent for the employment of the doctor. So, too, she can not, as a rule, bind herself, because her identity is merged in that of her husband. She is not sui juris, and has no right to contract. But, if she has separate property, the case may be different. In New York she can be held liable on her separate estate, if the intention to charge it is declared in the very contract, which is the foundation of the charges. The rule everywhere, however, is not the same. There is a conspicuous lack of uniformity on the subject of married women's rights. Some day uniformity may be obtained. If those ladies who cry for the right of suffrage would shed half of their tears for a settlement of the laws pertaining to married women, they would accomplish results worth striving for. But to return to the doctor. The poor man, at present, had better take care when a married woman comes to employ him for her servant, or he may be "left out in the cold."
Although not bound to furnish medical attendance and medicines, it seems the party hiring is bound to furnish proper food, and to support the servant during her sickness or disability, so long as she remains in his or her employ.
Another right which a servant-girl has, is a right to the enjoyment of a good character provided she has one and the law presumes she has it until the contrary appear. There is, unfortunately, a tendency on the part of a great many people to speak too freely, too thoughtlessly, and even maliciously, of the characters of others. The more marked the inferiority in social position of the person talked about, the greater the freedom with which the unbridled tongue wags; and just in proportion as the maligned person's station in life is lowlier, the injury done is the more irreparable. So it frequently happens that the character of one who has lived in a menial relation to us is spoken slightingly of, in a manner not justified by the facts. Thoughtlessness of the consequences of idle words, revenge for some act of the servant, or some other motive, may be at the bottom of it, but they afford no justification. The law protects her or will, if she has cash enough to invoke its protection, or can persuade a lawyer to take her case on speculation. If, however, the communication is made by a person acting honestly and without actual malice, then, even though it be
- Schouler on Hus. and Wife, § 123
- 22 N.Y. 450
- 2 Story on Contr. §§ 1,297, 1,298
- Starkie on Libel and S., p. 19