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Title: Governess  
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In Rebecca Solomon's 1851 painting The Governess, the title figure (seated right, with her charge) exhibits the modest dress and deportment appropriate to her quasi-invisible role in the Victorian household.

A governess is a girl, lady, or woman employed to teach and train children in a private household.

The position is rarer now, except within large and wealthy households such as those of the Saudi royal family[1] and in remote regions such as outback Australia.[2] It was common in well-off European families before World War I, especially in the countryside where no suitable school existed nearby. Parents' preference to educate their children at home—rather than send them away to boarding school for months at a time—varied across time and countries. Governesses were usually in charge of girls and younger boys. When a boy was old enough, he left his governess for a tutor or a school.

There has been a recent resurgence amongst families worldwide to employ governesses or full-time tutors. This has been for a number of reasons including personal security, the benefits of a tailored education, and the flexibility to travel or live in multiple locations.[3]


  • Role 1
    • In the United Kingdom 1.1
    • Abroad 1.2
  • In fiction 2
    • In film 2.1
    • In TV 2.2
  • Notable governesses 3
  • Other uses 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8


Traditionally, governesses taught "The three Rs"[4] to young children. They also taught the "accomplishments" expected of middle class women to the young ladies under their care, such as French or another language, the piano or another musical instrument, and often painting (usually the more ladylike watercolors rather than oils) or poetry. It was also possible for other teachers (usually male) with specialist knowledge and skills to be brought in, such as, a drawing master or dancing master.

In the United Kingdom

The governess occupied a uniquely awkward position in the companion.


An option for the more adventurous was to find an appointment abroad. Tsarist Russia proved to be a relatively well-paid option for many. According to Harvey Pitcher in When Miss Emmie was in Russia: English Governesses before, during and after the October Revolution,[5] as many as thousands of English-speaking governesses went there. As English became the fashionable language of choice among the aristocracy during the later days of the regime, clearly they were displacing opportunities formerly spread more across the French-speaking world. The estimate of numbers ('thousands'), although necessarily vague, is justified by some knowledge of the main lodging house used by those not accommodated with their host families, St. Andrew's House, Moscow, and by the places of worship they preferentially frequented, for example St. Andrew's Anglican Church, Moscow. Pitcher drew extensively on the archives of the Governesses' Benevolent Institution in London; there is also some allusion to the phenomenon of governesses being engaged abroad in A galaxy of governesses by Bea Howe.[6]

In fiction

Several well-known works of fiction, particularly in the nineteenth century, have focused on governesses.[7]

In film


Notable governesses

The daughters of Alexander Graham Bell with their governess, c. 1885.

Other uses

The term "governess" also refers to a female politician who serves as governor, although it is now considered archaic, and has been replaced by "governor".

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Harris, Julia: A career as a Governess? What skills do you need?, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 15 October 2004.
  3. ^, The Telegraph, 15 March 2009.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Pitcher, Harvey (1977). When Miss Emmie was in Russia: English Governesses before, during and after the October Revolution, ISBN 1906011494
  6. ^ Howe, Bea (1954): A galaxy of governesses (London, D. Verschoyle)
  7. ^ Lecaros, Cecilia Wadsö. The Victorian Governess Novel
  8. ^

Further reading

  • Broughton, Trev and Ruth Symes: The Governess: An Anthology. Stroud: Sutton, 1997. ISBN 0-7509-1503-X
  • Budde, Gunilla: Als Erzieherinnen in Europa unterwegs: Gouvernanten, governesses und gouvernantes, EGO – European History Online, Mainz: Institute of European History, 2011, retrieved: 21 February 2013.
  • Hughes, Kathryn: The Victorian Governess, London: Hambledon, 1993. ISBN 1-85285-002-7
  • Peterson, M. Jeanne: "The Victorian Governess: Status Incongruence in Family and Society", in Suffer and Be Still: Women In the Victorian Age, ed. Martha Vicinus. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1972.

External links

  •, British Tutors - Tuition agency providing governesses worldwide
  • The Victorian Governess, a bibliography, at Victorian Web
  •, Richard Redgrave's 'The Governess' discussed at the V&A Museum.
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