Governesses were a common feature of household staff amongst upper class families in the nineteenth century. A girl or woman of a middle class background, she was in charge of the girls and young boys of the family – once a boy was old enough, he would usually leave his governess for a tutor or boarding school. A governess was expected to teach reading, writing and arithmetic, perhaps another language such as French, music, painting and manners. She was also responsible for the moral upbringing of the children, particularly in strict households where the children were expected to be ‘seen and not heard’ – very often a young girl would spend more time with the governess than with her mother. Despite this, governesses were often isolated in their households, being neither servant nor family member.
The Governess, a 1998 British period drama film, takes a look at the life of a Jewish governess in London in the 1830s.