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The Role of The Governess and Why They May Be a Good Fit for Your Family

When you think of a Governess, you might think of a figure from mid-Victorian life and literature. Well, the Governess is alive and well in the 21st Century, and more importantly, more and more people are choosing to employ them in their homes. We have recently gotten a slew of phone calls asking us if we have Governesses on our Nanny roster, and the answer is a resounding yes. But, before you decide if hiring a Governess is right for you, let’s talk about the history of the Governess, the roll a Governess plays, and how they can fit into your family.

The History of the Governess

In 1851 more than 25,000 women earned their living teaching and caring for other women’s children. Most governesses lived with their employers and were paid a small salary on top of their board and lodging. When novelists started to put governesses into their fiction, in the 1840s, that was true when people took notice! Originally, the upper class employed Governesses because it was a status symbol, and the women who were employed were girls educated to become ‘ladies’ but needed to work because of economic distress in the early 19th century. The role of the Governess was to teach reading, writing, and arithmetic, as well as teaching French conversation, history, and geography. They also instructed their older students in the fine arts, such as drawing, piano, dancing, and good conduct, all designed to help their students attract an eligible match for marriage. A Governess was a surrogate mother and a family member who was sometimes mistaken for a servant.

The Roll of the Governess

Governesses are a specialized subset of Nannies, and they focus primarily on a child’s educational development. They should have full educational credentials and certifications in addition to several years of experience in both education and childcare. Some families only hire a Governess when their children are older because the Governess specializes in education, while some families hire both a Nanny and a Governess, and yet others might just hire a Governess and no Nanny.

Families hire a Governess for a variety of reasons. For instance, if they travel often, they might need flexibility without affecting the quality of their children’s education. If the family lives in a remote area, the best option might be a Governess that can provide ongoing education and/or support. Governesses are also often hired for children who are home-schooled. A Governess might even be viewed as a specialized tutor, who provides extra instruction in both a child’s regular academic subjects as well as extracurricular learning, such as French or piano. Because a Governess is typically more responsible for the education of the children, generally the domestic side of things is considered the secondary responsibility.

But, like Nannies, Governesses are often entrusted with non-educational tasks for children. This can include preparing meals, doing laundry, bathing and dressing children, and keeping the house tidy. It is not uncommon for a governess to work with children well into their adolescent years and leave a lasting impression for a child’s entire life.  But, unlike Nannies, the hours of a Governess can vary, depending on the position, location, ages and number of children. A Governess may work from a few hours a week or up to 12 hours a day and sometimes a Governess can be on an on-call basis.

The Typical Duties of a Governess

If you think a Governess is right for your family, it’s important to have a clear understanding of the typical duties that a Governess does, because these do vary from those of a Nanny.

  • A Governess helps with schoolwork and/or acts as a tutor for the children. They do this by supervising daily homework and work.
  • A Governess is responsible for keeping the room where the children work clean and organized.
  • A Governess ensures that all homework is done and that the children have their backpacks packed with their lessons ready to be turned in.
  • A Governess helps the children get ready for school or for the day, and often will confer with teachers if the family has given them that authority.
  • A Governess prepares daily lessons and organizes a timetable for coursework.
  • Some Governesses will prepare meals for the children and clean up after them.
  • A Governess organizes educational outings to take the children on and they will play with the kids in a fun, yet educational way.
  • A Governess works closely with the parents to ensure the children are learning and growing.

Although hiring a Governess is more prevalent in Europe, it is gaining popularity in the States. If you are considering a Governess, you will still need a contract, check references, and conduct an interview, just as you would a Nanny. But, hiring a Governess to help your children is a great way to either educate or to support your children’s education, and they will also be a fantastic addition to your home. If you would like to know more or are ready to start your Governess search, send us an email at or call us at 713-963-8880.