History’s Oddest Jobs

Learn about the five oddest jobs in history

| October 11, 2017

Jobs have existed throughout human history as a way for people to make ends meet. Today in the U.S. and many parts of the world, many jobs must comply with certain pay and safety regulations for an employer to be able to legally hire an employee. However, throughout history, there have been several odd jobs we can’t believe were ever jobs at all, where people did… interesting things for little pay. Below you’ll find 5 of the oddest jobs throughout history. Can you imagine yourself doing any of these?


1. Groom of the Stool

During Henry VIII’s Reign, he had a groom of the stool. The groom of the stool had many responsibilities, including helping the king go to the bathroom. He was responsible for the king’s “excretion and ablution” or in other words, he ensured that the king was comfortable while going to the bathroom, and after the act was done, he was also responsible for the king being properly cleaned.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The groom of the stool supplied the king with all the toiletries he needed, and it is argued today about whether the groom of the stool had to physically clean the king or not. He would also monitor the king’s bowel movements and inform doctors if he noticed anything out of the ordinary. While this may seem like a demeaning task, in the Tudor era, being the groom of the stool was a highly coveted and respected position that many men were after. Being the groom of the stool would put someone in charge of the mean who tended to the king’s private chambers, keep track of certain expenses and he would be in charge of deciding who was and was not allowed to enter the king’s chambers. It’s certainly doubtful that someone would take a job position like this today. 


2. Body Snatchers

A job that existed in the 1700s and 1800s, body snatcher’s job description entail exactly what their name says. They would dig up graves of recently deceased bodies, and take the bodies so they could resell them. At this time period, anatomy was becoming a very important part of medicine in Europe, and medical schools needed cadavers for their anatomy lessons. Bodysnatchers would work at night (so they would not be caught), and typically in the winter months because the cold would preserve bodies much better.

In less than an hour, a body snatcher could use a wooden spade to quietly dig up a grave. After finding the coffin, it was opened with a crowbar and the corpse would be removed, stripped of clothes or any other belongings, and all the soil would be returned to the grave. After this, the corpse would be taken and sold for a hefty amount to a medical school. After some time, people caught on, and those who could afford it would reinforce their loved one’s graves with iron cages or stone guards, in an effort to prevent corpse theft. Another technique that took a hit on the body snatcher’s jobs was for family members to wait until the corpse was no longer fit for dissection, and then bury it. Without a doubt, this is a job that took a strong stomach and a lack of fear of the dead!


3. Wet Nurses

Around the 17th and 18th centuries, it was common in some parts of Europe such as England and France for upper-class women to hire wet nurses, to nurse their babies. Many upper-class women who had just given birth did not want to breastfeed their children because of the thought at the time that it ruined their figures, and that it prevented them from wearing fashionable clothes. The solution for many women was to hire a woman with a lower social status who had also given birth, but was in need of money.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In England, for some women, becoming a wet nurse was a respectable position that provided them with good incomes for the time. In contrast, in France, wet nursing was not a position that paid well, but for new mothers who had no one else to turn to, it was the only option for earning some money. Wet nurses often left their children behind to live in the home of the child they were to look after and breastfeed. To make a living, they were forced to leave their child in the care of other wet nurses, who were sometimes even worse-off economically than they were. A wet nurse in Victorian England named Judith Waterford was paid to breastfeed babies well past her youth. At 80 years old, she was still being paid to nurse babies.


4. Lectors

This job can be traced back to Havana, Cuba in 1865. Lectors were tasked with reading out loud to the people who worked in cigar factories. Since the hours of labor were long and the work could get very monotonous for cigar workers, they devised a way to entertain themselves while getting their work done. They would hold short “auditions” for lectors, who were required to have a strong voice and excellent pronunciation.

Workers paid the lectors by contributing a portion of each of their salaries to pay for the lector’s salary. Lectors then sat on an elevated platform that placed them well above the workers, which helped their voices reach out further, and read content that ranged from American and Cuban newspapers to classic literature that included The Count of Monte Cristo and Don Quixote. Lectors also had to be careful about the material they chose to read to the workers. Factory owners did not want lectors to read content that involved topics about class struggle or economic inequalities because workers could go on strike or demand higher pay. Whenever lectors crossed this line, they would be forced out of the factories and not be welcomed back. Lector’s jobs were soon replaced by radios.


5. Sluggard Wakers

The job position of sluggard waker existed in 18th-century churches. People often dozed off during the service, so the sluggard waker carried a long wooden stick and would give people a sharp tap to wake them up. The sticks had two ends. One end was tipped with brass knobs, and the other would be tipped with a fox tail; men would be tapped with the brass knob and women would be tapped with the foxtail.

Picture courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Sluggard wakers would walk up and down the aisles, keeping a close eye on the congregation, and use their stick to ensure that everyone was paying attention. Tapping someone’s head with a stick is probably not the best way to wake up someone who is dozing off in a church today.

From monitoring a king’s bowel movements to waking up people with sticks, there are certainly some odd jobs that most of us wouldn’t want today. Some part-time jobs might even sound a bit boring if we compare them to the jobs above. A job is a job, so maybe waking up sleepy congregators isn’t such a bad job?

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