A Young Lady, of Good Family and Education, Desires an Engagement as Governess

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A Young Lady, of Good Family and Education, Desires an Engagement as Governess


By: Anonymous

Date: May 15, 1866

Source: Anonymous. "A Young Lady, of Good Family and Education, Desires an Engagement as Governess." Times (London) (May 15, 1866).

About the Author: These "positions desired" and "positions offered" advertisements were placed in the Times, England's main newspaper, which has been published daily since 1785.


The role of the governess in English society, and particularly during the Victorian Era, was that of a substitute mother and tutor. While children of the wealthy had nannies or nurses who attended to the child's bathing, health, and general physical and emotional well-being, the governess taught young boys academic subjects to prepare them to enter school, and tutored young women through their teenage years in some academic subjects as well. For both boys and girls the governess also served as a female role model of comportment, morality, and social behavior; while she did not replace their mother, in wealthy families the governess guided the children in social graces, manners, and the art of being a proper member of upper-class Victorian society.

While some governesses lived with the family that employed her, others came to the house each day. Those who "lived in" were treated better than the nanny or nurse and other servants in the home, but was still a quasi-servant. Nannies, nurses, kitchen staff, and domestic servants referred to the children as "Miss" and "Master," the governess called them by their first names. In turn, governesses themselves were referred to as "Miss." In the Charlotte Brontë classic Jane Eyre, for example, the main character, a governess, is referred to as "Miss Eyre"; nannies were simply called "Nanny." The governess' ambiguous social status within the family—neither household servant, guest, social peer, nor family member—created strife in some households.

The governess and the lady of the house could develop strained relationships. The only acceptable women for governess positions were those of the middle- and upper-middle classes who were well educated but, for various reasons, found themselves in need of an income. Therefore, in terms of social experience and upbringing, governesses had once been equal or nearly equal to the mothers who employed them, and yet were now beneath them. Typical governesses were poor widows or orphaned daughters left with no option but to find employment as a governess.

The following advertisements, from the London Times in 1866, provide insight into the types of governess positions women sought and those offered. The emphasis on languages and music in these advertisements reflects social and educational expectations for women in this era.


A young lady, of good family and education, desires an engagement as governess in a gentleman's family. Acquirements—English, French, good drawing. Address Beta, Gumbleton's post-office, Chapham road.

A foreign protestant governess required, for a family of position, for young children. English, French, and music. 40 upwards. Apply, personally, Lad Superintendent, Governess Institute, Hanover-street, Hanover-square.

A young lady, with seven years' experience, wishes a re-engagement as governess to young children. She teaches thorough English and good music. Address B.B., No. 115, Sloane-street, Chelsea.

A lady desires to recommend her German protestant governess to teach her own language in a family or school. Salary 25. Good needlewoman. Can teach music to beginners.—B.B. Hughes' library, Park-street, Regent's-park.

A nursery governess wanted, to take charge of four little girls, and assist with their wardrobe. Music the only accomplishment required. Address, stating full particulars, to B. T., Newport, Mon.

A young German protestant lady is desirous of an engagement as governess. She teaches, besides her own language, music and the rudiments of French. A gentleman's family preferred. Terms moderate. Address to B. B., 13, Trinity-street, Cambridge.

An experienced governess desires a Re-engagement, in a gentleman's family. Qualifications are English, French and music. Also an earnest and conscientious desire to be faithful and kind to the charge committed to her. Address A. D., care of Mrs. Braumpton, 26, Newland-street, Kensington.

A young lady desires a re-engagement as governess in a family or school. She is thoroughly competent to instruct in English, French, and good music, having held a situation as musical. Highest references. Address B.D., post-office, Camberwell, new-road.

A young lady, just returned from the continent, wishes an engagement as a resident governess. She feels quite competent to impart an English education, with good French and music. Address A. B., Robert's library, Arabella-row, Pinkco.


A typical governess received a small room in the family's home, her meals, and a small stipend, enough to keep her in decent clothes and shoes but not enough to support herself outside the family. Governesses who lived in the family home ate with the children unless invited by the parents to join them or to attend dinner parties; such events could be either pleasant and a refreshing experience, a reminder of her past status in society, or could be awkward and difficult.

In the 1860s more than 20,000 governesses were employed, but far more women sought such positions than could be hired. Governesses were a tradition in France and Germany as well; in the late 1800s Marie Curie, the future Nobel prize winner, worked as a governess, using her wages to support her sister through medical school, who in turn supported Curie as she studied at the Sorbonne. For families of the middle and upper classes who fell on hard times, the governess position was crucial; it enabled women to live in a manner to which they were accustomed, and to use their education to earn a respectable wage to help themselves or their families.

The role of governess exists in modern society; recruiting agencies train and screen candidates for positions as in-home teachers. Some agencies emphasize the English skills of British governesses; families wishing to teach their children English often employee them as language teachers while providing childcare and tutoring in other subjects. Other governesses are full-time teachers for students who home-school.

Twenty-first century governesses are often university students or graduates who view such work as a well paid stepping-stone to a teaching career. Unlike their 1866 counterparts, they have a wide array of employment options and come to governess work by choice rather than by circumstance, and the relationship to their students is defined by employment, not social class.



Beecher, Catharine. A Treatise on Domestic Economy. Boston: T.H. Webb, 1842.

Broughton, Trev, and Ruth Symes, eds. The Governess: An Anthology. Palgrave Macmillan, 1998.

Ellis, Sarah Stickney. The Women of England: Their Social Duties and Domestic Habits. London: Fisher, Son, & Co., 1839.

Hughes, Kathryn. The Victorian Governess. London: Rio Grande, 2002.

Zelizer, Viviana. Pricing the Priceless Child: The Changing Social Value of Children. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.