Victorian Governess – Salary, Duties, Uniform and Status

How were girls educated in Victorian times? Girls in the upper classes did not generally go to a school, it was seen as more appropriate for them to be taught at home by a governess. A Victorian governess had a better status in the family home than a servant in the household, but her status was mixed. She was not really accepted by the servants and also not really accepted by the family. Although a governess was sometimes allowed to sit in with the family after dinner, it was usually a rather awkward affair because she was seen as genteel but someone fallen on hard times. A governess was usually paid a small salary and she received board and lodging in the family home.

The role of governess began at a time in England’s history when many middle class families became impoverished, mostly as a result of banks that had failed after the Napoleonic wars. This meant that well-brought up young ladies had to earn a living one way or another. It was seen as disgraceful for girls of this class to work in a menial position or to work in a shop. The acceptable profession was to accept a position as a governess or teacher, usually in a stately home or small school. Eventually, hiring a governess was seen as status symbol, especially for those in the wealthier middle classes.

What were Victorian Governesses Paid?

Due to the transient nature of the job, there was no long term job security, benefits or pension at the end of their term. Governesses were often looking for a new position once their charges grew up to the point where she was no longer necessary.

The salary was very small, which meant there was not much chance of saving for retirement. In England, governesses were paid around 25 pounds per year, contrast that with a wealthy lord who would earn in the region of 10 000 pounds per annum from his estate and/or inheritance.

In England, the Governesses’ Benevolent Institution was set up in 1841 to help impoverished governesses.

What did a Victorian Governess Wear?

Victorian governess dress
Victorian governess dress

Dress was formalized by around 1880, which dress included a long, plain skirt, usually grey or black, boots and a wide belt, a blouse buttoned up to the neck, along with a shawl and bonnet for outside wear. Hair was usually scraped back into a tight bun and secured firmly under a net.

The classic Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte is an excellent historical novel which gives a great insight into what a governess’ role was and what her status was in a stately home. Besides the interesting historical facts, it’s a good read!

Are There Jobs for a Governess today?

A modern day governess would not be called a governess.  There are thousands of jobs available all over the world as a child carer.  Today, child care work is termed as a nanny, au pair, tutor or teacher, or manny in the case of a man carer.  As in the past, au pairs or nannies will often live with a family and receive accommodation, sometimes food and a weekly or monthly salary.  Lots of young girls like this type of work, as they can move to different countries and it gives them a chance to travel and experience a new culture.