OK, this is a strange one: my great grandmother and her two sisters (Edna, Willie Rebecca and Maud OR Beatrice Prince) were orphaned in Tennessee around the turn of the century. At least two of the girls (the third hasn't been verified but it's likely) can be found in the 1900 Federal Census listed as 'servants' in several households in close proximity to one another in Franklin County, TN. They were still children, 10-12 years old...would someone have had to give permission for them to work? I know child labor laws weren't what they are today, but wouldn't there need to be some sort of guardian, or court input on what happened to the girls after their parents died?
One of the girls is working for a Margaret Stovall, which we had been told was the name of the person that took all three girls in, but she is listed as the Stovalls' servant and the other girls were working for different people. Would families 'adopt' orphans, only to use them as servants and even hire them out?