Based on the administrative records of the Escola Doméstica Nossa Senhora do Amparo and trials involving cases of violence between bosses and maids in domestic space, this essay discusses the emergence of a moral consciousness and a pedagogic discourse about domestic work linked to varied representations of emancipation in Rio de Janeiro in the last decades of the nineteenth century and the first decades of the twentieth. The article discusses the ways in which slave emancipation and the preparation for free labor drew the attention of religious educators and families from the elite of the imperial city of Petrópolis, and how the nature of workplace relations in the domestic sphere constituted a central point of reference for the formulation of a nascent feminist rhetoric. These new rhetorics and practices, which engaged in defining and controlling the slow transformation of a complex landscape of domestic hierarchies, emerged in intimate articulation with slavery’s official end.

After describing the project of domestic education carried out by the Catholic Church in Petrópolis, I focus on various attempts to use the force of law to interpret, regulate, and order work performed in private homes, aiming to reveal how domesticity became a site of power that was subject to the interference and control of various voices and institutions of the nascent republican state.

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