September 24


Being a Governess in the Age of Jane Austen

Until now, we all know the peculiarities and requirements of the Regency era. As in our day, education played a key role in human life. Well, to the aristocrats’ mostly. It was very common, even for middle-class families, not to have a livelihood. So they had to drop their expectations and look for alternative ways of survival. Does this sound familiar?

The men, in this case, did not find it difficult because there were a plethora of options. The women, on the other hand, faced particular difficulties. 

Even for a middle-class woman who had a very good education, nice manners and a knowledge of society, it was very difficult to find a job suitable for her social status. A job that wouldn’t get her into a scandal and stigmatized her reputation irreparably! 

What most of those women chose, though, was the governess‘ position.

Oh, dear! Who doesn’t like a good governess romance story, right? But let’s see what it was really like being a governess! 

Are you with me?

Only wealthy families could hire a governess, whether they belonged to the aristocracy or middle class. The governess was the female version of a tutor with increased responsibilities. When a woman took a job as a governess, the family automatically provided her own room. The working hours were exhausting and it would be difficult to get home from work and back again the next day.

Finding a good governess was quite difficult. The family would have to be certain of the governess’s abilities and that she would effectively take care of the child. Not all governesses had the same skills, nor did they have the same ability to pass on their knowledge to a child.

As we have already mentioned, the work of a governess was a twenty-four-hour one and very demanding. The needs of the time for the education of children were common among the aristocratic families. So the governess, in the first place, taught reading, writing, and mathematics. In addition, as the fashion of the Season required it, French would be taught, as it was the most popular language back then. History and geography were also among the basic education that their students had to receive.

The above mentioned belonged to the basic knowledge that the children should have, independent of their sex. Boys would usually go away to a boarding school at the age of eight. Girls’ education was based on finding a suitable spouse when the time came. Thus began a new cycle in which various arts were added, which were considered to develop the girl’s spirit. That made her more sophisticated in the eyes of the potential suitor. Those were music, painting, needlework, and deportment. 

The work of the governess was difficult and demanding, but it was not sure to be unpleasant. Despite what literary books let us believe today, the governesses were not always treated as inferiors! In many cases, the families were treated with respect, as if they were members of the family. Still, the children spent more time with the governesses than with their parents, reaching the point of developing a special relationship with them…even loving them. In many cases, the children were more emotionally attached to the governess than to their mother! Oh my…can you imagine that?

Because of the prestige of their work, the governess did not belong to the aristocracy but neither to the middle class. So in all the difficulties that she had to face, the greatest was loneliness. When a woman chose or was led to choose, the profession of the governess, she automatically accepted that the chances of getting married were low, if not zero.

Her financial gain was the room and the food provided by the family. In some cases, the family provided them a small salary, but they were much lower than the minimum wage. Most of those who received a salary saved it for their retirement, as was often when families no longer needed them anymore, to let them out of the house.

Their place in the house was also very special. She did not belong to the family, nor to the staff. So she could make friendships neither with the servants nor with the members of the family. So she was socially isolated in the house she lived in. For this reason, she filled her hours with teaching so that she would not spend enough time alone.

Well, my dear, this is it!

This article’s purpose was to introduce you to the life of a governess during our lovely Regency Era…I hope you found it interesting and that you learned a lot!

Thank you for reading…I would love to know your thoughts about this article so, please, reply to this message or simply leave a comment below!

You’re fantastic 🙂

Written by Scarlett Osborne



Articles, Regency Romance

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  • The life of a governess was very lonely and hard she had to love her job or just be desperate for a place to eat or sleep this article is very interesting and enlightening


  • You did it! I no longer believe that most governesses were gorgeous, graceful and the daughters of nobility! And about to marry some handsome rich hunk! But those are
    still the stories I love to read and get a happily ever after. I love your books.
    Regards. Florine


  • What life, I could not do it even though I have 3 girls that was hard enough for me, I never knew, sometimes if it’s any better these days, a lot of men still run the world & make some of the rules.


  • Being a governess does not sound like a great job. As you pointed out, it must have been isolating and lonely. I imagine that being a governess was not so much a choice as a necessity in order to survive.
    This was an interesting story and very informative. Thank you.


  • I loved reading about the governess. Keep bringing the stories of the Regency to life. The story about the carriages was wonderful as well. Please provide a piece on the different levels of the aristocracy. Sometimes I tend to get confused. Thanks again.


  • Thank you for sharing the life of a governess during the Regency Era. Since there are Regency books out there where the governess falls in love with a titled gentleman who is a widower and they marry, I wonder how often this happened in the real life?


  • Worse than I expected. I would have thought the children would go to bed early so the governess could have a quiet evening at least.


  • Once again, a highly interesting look at an aspect of life during the Recency Era. Just look at Queen Victoria, and she was the Queen. Not much encouragement to learn much of anything This seemed to continue right up until the current Queen Elizabeth, too! How did the previous monarch expect the next monarch?
    Maybe the current monarch didn’t really care what the next one did. There seemed to be some dullards in the current monarch’s situations for some of them, in spite of the high invention rates happening in the 1800s.


  • A very lonely lot in life. If she was lucky, she might marry a footman or Butler; but mostly they never married. When she retired she was lucky to live in genteel poverty unless one of the heirs she raised gave her a substantial amount to live on, which happened quite a lot with the male heir.


  • The life of a governess was very hard as she was neither servant nor family & she was also exposed to the depredations of the randy lord/son of the lord if she was particularly attractive. Many young women were indeed forced into such an occupation due to the loss of financial stability within her own family caused by gambling away her dowry & the roof over her head. Isolation was a real problem & these governesses who were fortunate enough to retain their place worked very hard to sustain such a position within the family being passed on from one child to another & if she was lucky enough she could be referred to another household in need of such a person to look after the children. Not all of these women had the ability to transfer knowledge to their young charges & often were replaced leaving said women in limbo with nothing to support them. Indeed a hard life & I’m very glad that my life is so very much better than that of Jane Austin’s time.


  • Unfortunately, governesses were isolated within the household social system that they were often emotionally vulnerable to improper behavior from their betters (wealthy and healthy males) who could exhibit sexual harassment without many consequences and resented by their lessors (the servants), which made governesses isolated from assistance. Thus, the plot of many Regency romances originates with this premise. i would love to see more novels where the governess is witty enough to outmaneuver the rogue with the help of the servants before the honourable hero saves her. Maybe we could have a heroic servant, who is really somebody else in disguise. . . .


  • I really am interested in the regency era, so I welcome any historical information. I also love to read the novels coming out of this era. And its good to know that the novels portray situations as they would have existed.



  • Not a job I’d prefer, think you’d almost prefer to be a lady’s maid or servant, at least you’d have friends and the possibility of marriage.


  • Governess’s also were apt to be pursued by the Master of the house or elder sons and were lucky if they escaped from the household with their reputation in tact and a good reference in order to get another job.


  • Thank you very much for the article. What a strange life it must have been, neither fish nor fowl as the saying goes. Those poor women must have been so alone and lonely, the choices for women were so limited. We don’t know how lucky we are to live in such an enlightened age. I love the Recency and Georgian period but I’m glad I’m alive now because goodness only knows what I’d have done in that age!!


  • We as women have come such a long way since the Jane Austen era, and I am so thankful. What a lonely life that must have been. Very interesting article.


  • I enjoyed reading this article you put together on being a Governess. Of course in reading novels, we all hope the Governess can find a Happily Ever After, but in reality we see it often was not the case. Still keep writing lovely stories please, they are much enjoyed.


  • It was such a hard life, what with all the rules for proper deportment, ettiquette, restricted to contact
    with other employees of similar status, and separated from loved ones, and last but not least, low income and no protection for old age


  • I LOVE these articles that expand on the historical figures of that time.

    SO INTERESTING to know how people lived, and traveled, and dressed. Also, it’s a great reminder that things weren’t always quite as ‘romantic’ as we would sometimes like to imagine!



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