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

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