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What is a Governess: The Role of a Governess for Women and Children!

What is a Governess: The Role of a Governess for Women and Children!

What is a Governess: Discover the Private Household Role of a Governess!

A governess is a woman employed to teach and train children in a private household. She typically provides education, discipline, and moral guidance to the children under her care. The role of a governess has evolved over time but remains an important part of childcare for some families.

A common first step in childcare for parents is hiring a nanny to care for their kids and to help them to learn and develop social and self-care skills. As the children grow a little older, many parents look at hiring a live-in or live-out 'governess' to work with their children. These Governess jobs are varied and many governesses are based overseas with international travel. But what is a governess?

In brief, a governess is a lady hired to teach children privately, in their own home.

Looking back in time to the Victorian era, a governess was typically the only female role model in a child's life. The governess played an essential role in the child's upbringing and was even (for a time) the only way for a young lady to receive an education if her family could not find the means to send the charge to school.

Governesses tended to be single women from the middle class granted permission to come inside the homes of families belonging to the upper-class or aristocratic society. The governess's job was to educate young girls and boys.

Historically, governesses were employed by wealthy, aristocratic families to educate their offspring in the proper manners, etiquette, and intellectual pursuits befitting their social standing.

The position was considered a lonely job as the governess was neither family nor servant. Many mothers feared their children would prefer the caregiver because they spent more time with them. This led many parents to ignore the governess after work hours.


Governesses were most often employed to teach children how to read, to write and how to tackle arithmetic operations. Young women were taught to be genteel and accomplish the skills that aristocratic girls were expected to have. These included having the ability to speak in another language, play a musical instrument, paint, write poetry, or even embroidery. 

What is the Role of a Governess?

household staff

Governesses have experienced a resurgence in popularity, though their role has evolved to include teaching manners, etiquette, and lessons to children. They are now sought after by international staffing agencies looking to hire for a diverse range of families, including the affluent, high-profile professionals, and even royalty, for reasons that consistently centre around their teaching abilities.

The modern Governess’s duties and responsibilities primarily revolve around support for the charge's education, manners, and general etiquette. Governesses are tasked with communicating with the charge's subject-specfic tutors and schools to analyse performance in class. Governors and governesses ensure that their charges are comfortable reaching necessary academic milestones. The governess must therefore be highly educated herself to oversee her charge's education. The governess herself usually teaches foundational academic subjects including reading, writing, and arithmetic.

The governess occupies a unique role, situated somewhere between a nanny and a tutor, combining the care-taking responsibilities of the former with the educational expertise of the latter. In essence, the governess role equates to qualified caregivers, hired by parents, acting as personal teachers to the young children in their households. Most governess jobs are targeted towards highly educated individuals with at least 2 years of experience in a similar role tutoring charges.

Most modern governess roles will only require an academic mentor. The more 'domestic' household or childcare-related tasks are taken care of by housekeepers or nannies.

Modern private governesses are specialised childcare workers hired to teach kids from (usually) age 3 and up. A full-time governess is responsible for the son or daughter of their employer and her role includes:

  • Ensuring that children complete their homework
  • Planning a routine that allows for fun and education activities
  • Teaching charges specialised subjects, such as a new language, history, or musical instruments
  • Ensuring that the kids have proper manners and etiquette
  • Communication with the school and parents about the child’s educational progress
  • Helping prepare children for exams and assessments
  • Encouragement for the charges to behave and complete their studies
  • Tuition in a 2nd language (typical for 'overseas' governesses)

Who Hires a Governess and Why?

In today's fast-paced world, the demand for a well-rounded education and individualised attention to a child's development has never been greater. As a result, many families seek the expertise of a governess, a specialised professional responsible for nurturing and educating their children within the home environment. In this in-depth exploration, we'll delve into the realm of governesses and uncover the reasons behind their increasing popularity.

The principal motivations for hiring a governess are as follows:

  1. Personalised Education: A governess is a highly skilled educator, often holding a degree or specialised qualifications in teaching, child development, or a particular subject area. By working closely with the child or children, a governess can tailor her teaching methods and curriculum to suit the individual needs and learning styles of her charges, ensuring a well-rounded and engaging education.

  2. Manners and Etiquette: Governesses are skilled in the notions of etiquette and social grace, and they impart these skills to their charges, fostering a sense of poise, confidence, and propriety. This emphasis on good manners and proper behaviour is highly valued by many families.

  3. Homeschooling Support: For families who opt for homeschooling, a governess bestows structure, academic guidance, and the expertise needed to navigate the challenges of homeschooling. With the governess's support, parents can feel confident in their decision to homeschool as the charges have a high-quality education tailored to their needs.

  4. Flexibility: Governesses typically provide full-time, live-in care, offering families the flexibility and stability they require. This arrangement is particularly beneficial for families with demanding careers, frequent travel, or other commitments that may make it difficult to provide consistent, hands-on care for their children.

  5. Cultural Enrichment: A governess is often well-traveled and highly educated, with a passion for sharing her knowledge and experiences with her charges. By exposing children to a variety of cultures, languages, and traditions, a governess helps broaden their horizons and fosters an appreciation for the diverse world in which we live.

  6. One-on-one Attention: In contrast to the crowded classrooms and overburdened teachers that characterise many traditional educational settings, a governess provides personalised, one-on-one attention to her charges. This individualised approach not only enhances the learning experience but also allows the governess to closely monitor the child's progress and address any concerns or areas of difficulty as they arise.

  7. Security and Privacy: For high-profile families, the privacy and security offered by a governess can be a significant advantage. As a trusted member of the household, a governess is well-equipped to protect the children in her care, ensuring their safety and well-being at all times.

  8. Overall Child Development: In addition to their academic responsibilities, governesses are often tasked with overseeing the physical, emotional and social development of their charges. This holistic approach to child-rearing allows the governess to nurture well-rounded, emotionally intelligent, and confident individuals who are well-prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.

  9. Continuity and Stability: The presence of a governess in a child's life offers a consistent and stable figure to guide them through their formative years; essential for children who may face frequent moves or disruptions in their home life, as the governess remains a constant source of support, guidance, and care.

  10. Specialised Skills: Many governesses possess unique talents or areas of expertise, such as musical ability, fluency in multiple languages, or proficiency in specialised subjects like art, history, or science. By sharing their knowledge and passion with their charges, governesses help create a love of learning and encourage their students to explore and develop their own interests.

Governesses Today: The Modern Face of a Time-Honoured Profession

In today's fast-paced and ever-evolving world, the role of the governess has undergone significant transformations. While live-in nannies share similarities with the governesses of the 19th century, modern governesses are expected to possess specialised knowledge, acting as educators, caretakers, and tutors all in one. Indeed, the expectations once set for governesses have now become the norm for nannies, encompassing a plethora of responsibilities and skills. Now not only a job for a woman or mistress, men are increasingly in demand to work as a governor for some families. 

A modern governess is educated and experienced, an expert in childcare, and a proficient tutor. She is typically tasked with nurturing, teaching, and guiding children, often from affluent households, in their formative years. Today's governesses boast impressive educational fundamentals, holding certifications and degrees in various fields of study. Additionally, they possess years of experience in teaching children in school settings and caring for them in domestic environments.

In many ways, a governess is a bridge between a nanny and a private tutor. While responsible for the child's welfare and daily routine, she also has a vital role in their educational development. The modern governess not only provides academic support but also helps children achieve important developmental milestones, plan and organise educational activities, and communicate effectively with parents to ensure the son or daughters progress.

The expertise of a governess doesn't stop at academics; they are also well-versed in teaching etiquette, manners, and social skills. With a keen eye for details, they encourage children to explore their interests, engage in physical activities, and participate in cultural events. Often accompanying families on trips, a governess is a constant figure in a child's life, ensuring a stable and nurturing environment.

Governesses today possess the flexibility and adaptability to cater to a wide range of family needs, whether it's homeschooling, providing additional support for children with special requirements, or aiding with language development. They are highly skilled professionals who can create tailored lesson plans, assess children's progress, and administer exams, all while providing personalised care and attention.

With the resurgence of the governess role, demand for these highly qualified and experienced women has increased worldwide. Governesses are now employed across various countries and settings, from bustling cities to remote countryside estates. The salary of a governess is typically higher than that of a nanny or tutor, reflecting their unique skills and the value they bring to a family. Governess work is therefore now a highly specialised and sought-after profession. They are not only educators and caretakers but also mentors and role models, helping to shape the minds and manners of the incumbent generation.