Gender Roles in the 19th Century Paper

Gender Roles in the 19th Century Paper

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The office of a governess was replete of trouble and inhumane treatment in the 19th Century (Bronte, 2012). The female teachers or governesses were not trained for the posts, and they were subjected to indignities of all kinds. Notably, more than 25, 000 women became governesses; they taught other women’s kids and served as the children’s caregivers. The governesses lived by what the employers paid them as a small fee beyond the lodging and boarding facilities. At the same time, the ladies who undertook the teaching professions were subjected to painful and discriminatory treatment as will be laid down in the paper. On the contrary, men were subjected to treatment that was more humane as boys went to school right from eight years and were taught by fully qualified teachers. Gender inequality was very pronounced in the teaching profession in the 19th century (Hughes, 2014). Consequently, the story of the governess became very common in Victorian fiction most times as the victim and a few times as villains. The office of the governess is also considered as a longstanding institution in England (Hughes, 2001). This work offers several elements that were common in the life of a governess. This paper will clearly show some of the major elements of gender inequalities in the teaching profession in the 19th century Gender Roles in the 19th Century Paper.

The first portion of the 19th Century was replete of economic crises; in these periods, many banks closed down as they failed, owing to the Napoleonic wars that hit the land. At the same time, the government, at the time, sent no welfare to the people (Hughes, 2014). That made most of the middle-class families to be destitute. Boys started to drop out of school as soon as they were 15 years and they earned good salaries from the jobs they found. Most families, which depended on the young men, earned a fortune, and the money was enough to afford the upkeep. However, this was not the same for girls as the societal values made it impossible for the lassies to get jobs in shops and factories with other working people. A girl was considered less informed for public jobs if she did not finish school unlike boys who were readily offered jobs. Instead, most of the girls were only offered jobs as teachers in people’s homes or even in small schools. The governess served as a surrogate mother who was not allowed to have kids of her own because she had to commit her life to fully supporting other kids (Hughes, 2014). In addition, if a governess had her own children, many people feared that she would not pay full attention to supporting the mistress’ children. At the same time, it is clear that the society preferred boys because boys continued the family line unlike girls who were married off to other families. That explained the low investment that many parents made in girls as compared to boys (Hughes, 2001).

Also owning governesses in the economy was a status symbol, which signified that the owner of the house was too genteel to raise or teach her kids. As such, the governesses were employed in the same way the cleaners were. They were entrusted with the duty of raising the children in the house. Besides, it is notable that the governess mainly dealt with teaching girls and her education was limited; as such, the training she offered the girls was limited. The gender gap was more evident because boys joined the school at eight years, and they were taught by fully qualified teachers (Hughes, 2001). That equally served to limit the knowledge base of the girls as compared to the boys. The governesses taught only what they knew limiting girls not only of education but also of work opportunities.

Governesses also played the role of reinforcing gender roles that women were supposed to carry within their families. They taught girls on sustaining the domestic sphere by showing them how to act when they got married (Barrret, 2013). The Mademoiselles were prepared on how they ought to play gender roles within their families; these were mainly domestic chores. The governess mainly wondered how life could be so unfair to her since everyone treated her very poorly. Her attitude towards gender discrimination indicated that she was not happy with her job or even with the gender discrimination. The governess was most times treated as an outsider or a misfit in society. Most people said that the governesses never fitted anywhere (Hughes 2001). For one, she served as a surrogate mother who was not allowed to have kids of her own. In other situations, she was a member of the family, yet she was mistaken as a servant, owing to the social classes in England. In most circumstances, she was also considered socially inferior to the people in the family. Equally, the governess was hardly invited to share dinner with the other family members even in situations where the employers were kind; the social norms did not allow the merging of that kind (Hughes, 2014) Gender Roles in the 19th Century Paper.

Similarly, the servants in the house did not like her since they were expected to be indifferent towards her. The best example is SSH, a governess who narrates her story in Hughes (2014) stated that the job brought forth loneliness as one was served food after all the other servants of the house (Hughes, 2014). At the same time, SSH stated, “my life as a governess was replete of isolation and loneliness” (Hughes, 2014). Hughes (2014) also posits that the governess mostly spent all evenings alone; the schoolroom served as the sitting room, and that made life incredibly lonely. The same is stamped in Hughes (2014) who says in her diary that she was very homesick as a governess and she could not be friendly with the employers since she did not understand them well enough. Besides, the governess found it hard to meet suitable men to marry her since she was always confined indoors and had no time to go out with suitable men (Hughes, 2001). The female employers were also very harsh to the governesses, warning them not to get married to suitable mates in the houses. As such, governesses had to remain plain lest they are told they want to seduce the men in the house. Also, the governesses often found themselves jobless since most employers only needed their services for a few years before they dismissed them. As such, a governess’s job was not stable. Also, the pay was meagre, and that made it very hard for the governesses to save for retirement of emergencies like sicknesses.

The governesses also posited that they existed in confined spaces between the employers and the servants. These were excluded from the general society and were stifled intellectually. Additionally, their life was made more difficult by the meagre salaries, which they earned. The working conditions were also tough as per the reports found in their diaries. The rise of the middle class also made life more difficult for the mistresses as was the case for Nelly Weeton who recounted her sad ordeal as a governess (Hughes 2001). Nelly lost her dad at the tender age of 6 while her mother died when she was 21. Nelly was educated by the mother who served as a schoolmistress; unlike her brother, she did not go to school. While the brother studied exciting courses such as Latin arts and French, Nelly was taught sewing, teaching, and washing dishes. To make the matter worse, when the mother died, the brother inherited all the money and the house, leaving Nelly homeless when he married. All the above shows the inequalities that existed in society as far as women were concerned. Nelly recorded that she was unwanted, lonely, and left out; she also said she had few prospects. She all along was serving as a governess in different homes, but every time they no longer needed a governess, she was kicked out yet again. That made her homeless for she was no longer welcome in her home since it now belonged to the brother and his new family. Nelly complained that although she might have been more educated than most of the people in the households where she worked, she was treated worse than a servant was (Hughes, 2014). Finally, she earned the job of a schoolteacher, although her pray was extremely poor.

The other indispensable story revolves around Ann Bronte and her family. Ann came from a good and well-off family, but her mother died when the kids were young. Father Patrick taught the four kids, and Ann decided to pursue a career as a governess at the tender age of 19. In “Agnes Grey”, she states that it was a struggle to educate the kids and at the same time, discipline them. Notably, she says that the governesses did not have permission to discipline kids. As such, children could do anything to the governesses since they had been taught to disregard these governesses (Bronte, 2012). When she tried to discipline a kid at one point, as any grown-up would do, she was dismissed, and that led to the authorship of Agnes Grey.

Other than that, Ann complains that governesses suddenly find themselves in the positions of servants within the families where they work; they are even treated worse than servants are in some of the homes. Although one may be equal to the employees before they are employed, one immediately becomes a servant when they take the job. She also complains that her post made it hard for her to get a husband. In “Agnes Grey”, the lady marries the owner of the house, Mr Weston, and together they set up their school (Bronte, 2012).

The problem of the rising middle class is all represented in “Agnes Grey”, whereby middle-class families can afford governesses. The fact that there is a recession in the land makes some people in the middle class seek jobs as governesses, and that raises the conflict of interest whereby the employers still treated the governesses as servants. For example, Agnes is a middle class by birth but becomes a working-class by taking on the job of a governess” (Bronte 2012).

Equally, Agnes says that she finds it absurd to call her employers “miss” and “master” as these are her equals in real life. Similarly, Agnes says that the servants in the house dismissed her since they saw the poor treatment she received from the kids and their parents. In addition, a personal quote from Agnes indicated that she was dissatisfied with the kind of treatment, which she received “I was middle class by birth, but I became worse than a servant by taking on the job of a governess” (Bronte 2012). Ann also says that life was incredibly lonely as a governess since one had to remain plain to avoid being told they were interested in the male in the house Gender Roles in the 19th Century Paper.


In conclusion, the governess who served as a teacher in the 19th century Victorian community lived a very lonely and painful life. She committed herself to the life of being a surrogate mother to other people’s children and could not get her own kids since she was restricted by societal expectations. At the same time, everyone mistreated them, ranging from the employers, their kids, and the other servants (Hughes, 2014). Similarly, in her brothers received all the inheritance when the parents died and most governesses were left homeless and desolate. The same exposed girls to meagre education as compared to boys since the boys went to schools from the age of eight while the girls were left home in the care of governesses. The society should have been keener to the needs of the governesses. At the same time, girls ought to have been offered greater and higher levels of education so that the gender gap could die.


Barret, K. L. (May 2013 ). Victorian Women and Their Working Roles. State University of New York College at Buffalo .

Bronte, A. (2012). Agnes Grey. London, Dover Publications.

Hughes, K. ( 2001). The Victorian governess. London : Hambledon and London.

Hughes, K. (15 May 2014). Gender roles in the 19th century. Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians.

Hughes, K. (15 May 2014). The figure of the governess. Discovering Literature: Romantics & Victorians Gender Roles in the 19th Century Paper.