Waitressing: Maine’s Coastal Hotels

Long Beach, York, 1920

When Frances started high school she asked her parents if she could start earning money and seeing the world a bit in the summer instead of going to the New Hampshire farm. They agreed to let her join her friend Viola Russell waiting on tables at a hotel on Long Beach, in York. In the evening a man played his old “hurdy gurdy” with a monkey on his shoulder. He “ground out” tunes for Viola and Frances to dance. The hotel was right by the ocean so they could hear the waves as they lapped the shore. Frances recalled, “Sometimes we went swimming in the ocean at midnight by the light of the full moon. Lots of people did that – so nice in the good old summertime.” One day, a guest from new York came into a bedroom where Viola and Frances were sweeping. “He got fresh — thinking that’s what he could do with chambermaids, you know,” Frances recalled. But she shooed him right out of the room with her broom. Later, he sent her roses and she ignored him. Then, from New York he sent her a poem — about a young woman sweeping a man out of her room — and expressing respect for her.

The next summer, Francis worked at the porch-wrapped Cloyester House on the rocks of Cape Elizabeth and they could hear the constant lapping of the ocean on the rocks below. Besides waiting tables and answering the phones, she ordered and prepared the fruit for guests’ breakfasts. The (mostly Canadian) guests were kind and considerate; once during a close thunderstorm the telephone rang and the folks at her table would not let her answer it for fear that a bolt of lightening might come through.

The next summer she worked at the grand Atlantis Hotel on Kennebunk Beach and her older sister Rena joined her. Their Canadian guests liked them to serve their afternoon tea on the wide veranda overlooking the ocean. During time off, they enjoyed a walk to the beach bordered by wild roses, fragrant and beautiful.

Ruth, Rena, Fran, and Hollon, 10 Maple St, Sanford

Fran's Summer Clients

Fran’s next summer job waiting on tables was at the Rock End Hotel, in the North East Harbor of Mt. Desert Island.  She took care of two “blueblood ladies who wanted me to take care of just them and they paid well for the service.” Frances recalled, “I had a cubby hole where I waited for their bell – I did not mind because I did handy work for Christmas while waiting.” It was a new experience because before she had always had 6-8 people to wait on. “But these two required about as much attention as 6.” An older waitress took Frances under her wing and they enjoyed walks, bird watching, and watching sails go by.

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