In Service: Life Downstairs

Tames Alan is an actress, historian, and fashion history teacher who has combined her skills to create an educational program for people of all ages. In this program, Tames talks about what it was like to live and work downstairs in a late-Victorian house. With fifty percent of England’s population “in service,” the program gives insight into how this “unseen” half of the population lived and what went on below stairs. She explains the complicated hierarchy between upper and lower servants, everyone’s duties, the loneliness of a half-day off, and gives a lively account of high jinks downstairs that accompanied the long hours of drudgery.

With her wide knowledge of the Victorian era, Tames brings to life the people and activities downstairs. As with all her other Living History Lectures, a question and answer period follows.

This program is suitable for elementary grades on up. It has been given as a general history program to younger students, a cultural background program for students of British history, and as a clothing program for costume and textile students. The program is especially beneficial for college-level history students because of the hands-on experience they gain concerning the Victorian era of British history. It is also a fun cultural event for general adult audiences and lovers of history and clothing.

With so many people in America interested in the “servant question,” this program gives an insight into how servants were treated during the late-Victorian era. Tames studied theater and history at Willamette University in Oregon, and theater at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco and Dell Arte School in California. Throughout her theatrical career, she maintained her interest in history and costuming. Tames has taught fashion history at the Art Institute of Seattle, offering a class that combined fashion history, social history, and women’s studies., More recently, she has been a speaker for the Washington State Commission for the Humanities in their Inquiring Minds series.