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Desperate Measures - 19th Century Working Women

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Governess for hire

Charlotte Bronte - Ex-governess and Author
Bronte wrote about Governess, Jane Eyre


"Wanted, a Governess, on Handsome Terms. 


Governess – a comfortable home, but without salary, is offered to any lady wishing for a situation as governess in a gentleman’s family, residing in the country, to instruct two little girls in music, drawing , and English; a thorough knowledge of the French language is required."

Most upper-middle-class women who were short on money found employment as governesses.  A governess was often in a difficult and lonely position because her background set her apart from the servants but due to her position, she registered lower on the social scale than her employer, regardless of thier similar backgrounds.   Therefore, she belonged nowhere but in the nursery with the children.  
Qualifications for Governesses were inconsistent.  However the Bronte sisters, (and Charlotte's character, Jane Eyre) were trained in History, Geography, Globes, Grammar, Writing, Arithmetic, Needlework, Housework, Music and Drawing.  Some governesses, like the Rivers sisters who practiced German together in "Jane Eyre"  had high aspiritions and worked on their own to gain additional knowledge and make themselves more marketable to high income families.

The Victorian Governess Novel

Victorian Education

Letters from a Victorian Governess

"The situation of governess is the only other (work) ordinarily available to any one wishing to retain her position in the middle ranks; and to it every young woman of spirit, intelligence, and education turns herself, when from unforeseen calamities she is driven to earn her won subsistence.  Indeed, it forms the chief support of all that have a shadow of education." 


FROM:  The Industrial and Social Position of Women

This weg page was created as a class assignment for English 3622 - "Women's Writing" at The University of New Brunswick in Saint John.  Below is a link to the course blog.  Check it out to see what we've been up to.

Course Blog for English 3622 - Winter 2005