Teachers are often put in a difficult position in today’s society, but I think the situation faced by their historical counterparts was often much worse. A governess brought into a home to teach girls and younger boys was expected to be everything but was treated as nothing.
To begin with, according to a servants’ guide published in 1826, any candidate for a governess position had to be “respectable and well-educated.” That education was supposed to include the ability to write a “graceful” letter, speak fluent French and have some familiarity with Italian. (The language, not the food.) She should play piano well enough to give lessons, and preferably play harp and guitar as well. She should be able to teach the elements of fashionable dance and “not be ignorant of” arithmetic. (It seems clear that dance was considered more important to the female education than math, however.) “Of course” the governess was expected to be an expert in all types of needlework, and she should also know geography, popular sciences and literature. And she should be an expert in drawing, as well, because it was “so essential” for the young ladies to achieve proficiency in this skill in order to be considered “accomplished.”
Nevertheless, the expertise of the governess should be doled out in limited increments so as not to weary their pupils too much. (more…)