Governess education

Many middle-class girls were taught at home by members of their own family or by friends and relations. Governesses were often employed by wealthy Victorian manufacturing families to help their daughters move up the social scale with one end in view: to prepare the girls to catch a husband. Some governesses were able and intelligent but many knew little more than the pupils they professed to teach.

There is a pretty theory abroad, which is always brought forward when women's education is talked about, i.e. that they are educated to be wives and mothers. I do not know a more fallacious one. They are not educated to be wives but to get husbands.
Mrs. William Grey in 1871 quoted in Josephine Kamm, Indicative Past, London 1971, p. 15.

The only 'respectable' occupation open to many middle-class girls who did not marry was that of governess.

As Charlotte Bronte's novel Jane Eyre shows, governesses were underpaid (from £16 to £25 per year) and very often badly treated.
It was the plight of these poorly paid governesses which sparked off the movement for reform of girls' secondary and university education both in England and Ireland.

A governess with her students


  1. The only 'respectable' occupation open to many middle _____ girls who did not marry was that of _____.


  1. Do a project on the role of the governess as depicted by Charlotte Bronte in Jane Eyre.
contents index