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A governess usually lived in her middle or upper-class employer's home and was entrusted primarily with the education of the family's children until they entered a school or college, or until a girl "came out."

Women frequently turned to this position when they found themselves in 'reduced' circumstances. Well-educated, genteel women of good family could serve as a role model of appropriate behavior and moral values, as well as providing a basic education to her charges. But being a governess could be a difficult balancing act since the actual status of the position lay somewhere between that of family and servant.

From Wives and Daughters, Part Two, Chapter XV

It is a question whether Mrs Kirkpatrick or Molly wished the most for the day to be over which they were to spend together at the Towers. Mrs Kirkpatrick was rather weary of girls as a class. All the trials of her life were connected with girls in some way. She was very young when she first became a governess, and had been worsted in her struggles with her pupils, in the first place she ever went to. Her elegance of appearance and manner, and her accomplishments, more than her character and acquirements, had rendered it more easy for her than for most to obtain good 'situations;' and she had been absolutely petted in some; but still she was constantly encountering naughty or stubborn, or over-conscientious, or severe-judging, or curious and observant girls. And again, before Cynthia was born, she had longed for a boy, thinking it possible that if some three or four intervening relations died, he might come to be a baronet; and instead of a son, lo and behold it was a daughter! Nevertheless, with all her dislike to girls in the abstract as 'the plagues of her life' (and her aversion was not diminished by the fact of her having kept a school for 'young ladies' at Ashcombe), she really meant to be as kind as she could be to her new step-daughter, whom she remembered principally as a black-haired, sleepy child, in whose eyes she had read admiration of herself. Mrs Kirkpatrick accepted Mr Gibson principally because she was tired of the struggle of earning her own livelihood; but she liked him personally - nay, she even loved him in her torpid way, and she intended to be good to his daughter, though she felt as if it would have been easier for her to have been good to his son.

English Society Illustrated:
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Land Agent | Governess | Servants

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