Butler in History

In films and books, o­ne often sees the butler scampering around, providing comic relief or the iconic father-figure. But where did the real butler come from and what did he do?

The earliest mention of a butler-like figure was the Biblical account of Joseph interpreting the dreams of the Pharoah's servants. From the Old French word "bouteillier", or "cup bearer", a butler was originally put in charge and care of the alcohol within a well-to-do home. Because these were important possessions, o­nly a highly trusted slave or servant was given this duty.

As history progressed, so did the scope of the butler's duties. Along about the Victorian age, the butler took over the duties of the steward of the earlier Elizabethan era. Gradually, as more duties were assigned to the butler, he moved from a position of middle-ranking servant to the senior-most male servant in a household. While the steward was now in charge of the estate and all that occured outside of the home, the butler took charge of the day-to-day affairs within the household and was responsible for all the male servants. Today, the butler is often in charge of all servants within a home.

While the number of household servants declined radically between World War II and the 1980's, the new millennium has seen a resurgence of the profession.

the correct servant
Traditionally a male, the last century has seen a great number of women taking o­n the role and resposibility of the butler duties. This is due, in part, to the fact that women have much greater decision making powers than previously. While the male butler is still the norm, many have found that women butlers are preferred.

Alonzo Fields, the White House butler for the Hoover, Roosevelt, Truman and Eisenhower administrations, wrote a memoir entitled "My 21 Years In the White House" giving insight to the role and duties of such an esteemed position.