Shown here is a page of advertisements from the Morning Post, including several placed by women looking for employment as governesses in private homes. During the early-mid 19th century, advertising was the most common way to find employment as a governess.
The governess advertisement
Women typically used these advertisements to outline their education, accomplishments and previous experience. In particular, wealthy upper-class families sought governesses with skills in languages and 'feminine' accomplishments, such as music or art. Alternatively, the mistress or master of a house might have chosen to place ‘wanted’ adverts in newspapers.
What were the drawbacks of advertising?
Newspaper advertising drew criticism, however. During the 1840s, the Governesses' Benevolent Institution, founded in 1841, sought to set up a formal, regulated employment register. It was argued that newspaper advertising undermined the professionalism of the governess and allowed dishonesty on the part of both governess and employer. Campaigners also used the advertisements to reveal the disparity between governesses' poor pay and employers' ever-demanding expectations.
Advertising in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
As the ‘kind fairy’ tells Jane Eyre: ‘Those who want situations advertise’. Jane secures her employment at Thornfield by placing an advertisement, almost identical to those shown here, in the local newspaper (ch. 10). These scenes reveal the novel’s commitment to realism.
- Article by:
- Kathryn Hughes
- Poverty and the working classes, Gender and sexuality
From Jane Eyre to Vanity Fair, the governess is a familiar figure in Victorian literature. She is also a strange one: not part of the family, yet not quite an ordinary servant. Kathryn Hughes focuses on the role and status of the governess in 19th century society.