In Boston, Massachusetts during the first half of the nineteenth century, the status associated with the occupation of waiter changed considerably. “Waiter” began as a euphemism to mask the lowliness of “servant”, but, by 1820, waitering too connoted servility in the minds of white, native-born Americans. But despite whites’ reluctance to work as waiters, waitering in antebellum Boston was a coveted position among blacks. The growing numbers of black waiters in Boston throughout the antebellum period refused to accept the menial status whites had assigned to waitering. They refused to believe as whites did – that waitering was becoming even further degraded simply because it was performed by blacks. Instead, blacks in this period chose to create their own definition for what being a waiter meant, instilling in the work pride, status, and, above all, dignity. Blacks persisted in making the case for waitering as skilled, respectable employment despite continued ambivalence from whites. Attention to this remarkable process of cultural creation in one of the few antebellum occupations that was not entirely racially segregated is revealing of nineteenth-century racial and ethnic particularities, as well as Americans’ attitudes toward social relationships within the context of the quickly changing, larger cultural order.

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Food and History

Food and History

Revue de l'Institut Européen d'Histoire de l'Alimentation

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Print ISSN: 1780-3187 Online ISSN: 2034-2101

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