Clara Andres was born on February 9, 1858, in Düren, a German town located between Aachen and Cologne near the Belgian border. She started to work at a very young age as a domestic servant in a castle near her birth place. Afterwards, just before reaching the age of sixteen, Clara moved to the Belgian port city of Antwerp to work for a lawyer named Julius Vrancken who lived with his wife and his four sons in a beautiful house in late neoclassical style located in the Wolstraat near the Saint Carolus Borromeus church.
Clara and her colleagues probably had their own room on a separate floor without any of the luxuries of their employers. They had long working hours and only some time off on Sunday afternoons. Although the large majority of foreign servants was older than eighteen, recent research results show that moving between the German border region to Antwerp at such a young age as Clara was no exception in this time period. Ongoing research tries to find answers to the questions why and how an increasing number of (young) foreign women migrated towards Belgian cities in the second half of the nineteenth century to work as maid servants in bourgeoisie households.
Most women only worked as maid servants for a specific period in their lifetime. Afterwards, many women returned to their home region to get married and start a family of their own. Others stayed in the city and married there or found another type of job. Clara made a different decision. She became a postulant in a catholic monastery. During this stage in her lifetime, Clara moved temporarily to Louvain and later Tilburg, probably to receive education and to become accustomed to religious life. Finally, in 1892, she returned to Antwerp and stayed at the Sint Jacobsmarkt. She remained in the city during the German occupation in the First World War. However, because she was of German descent, the Belgian authorities asked around about her behaviour during the war. Fortunately, they concluded that “she behaved well under enemy occupation. She got permission to stay in Belgium but was no longer allowed to be involved in educational activities.
How to use foreigners files for local history research
May 8, 2017
Case Study: Clara Andres,a sixteen-year-old servant from Germany