Tuesday, October 9, 2012
Mom, Sort of
So what did a nanny do? Well, everything: she was, quite literally, the mother, and even children’s actual mothers might follow her dictates on the assumption that a professional nanny must know what was best. Nannies ordered meals for their children, set schedules for meals, naps, playtime, and airings, and with the help of nursery-maids (younger assistants who hoped to achieve nanny status themselves some day) ran the nursery.
Children generally stayed under the exclusive care of a nurse/nanny until about age five or six. In addition to taking care of their bodily needs, a nanny was also responsible for the next level of parenting duties: instilling basic manners and morals in their charges. Most also taught their charges their letters and numbers. At about this time, a governess or tutor would step in, and while the nanny continued to be caretaker, much of a child’s time would now be spent with the governess. At some point between the ages of 8 and 11, a boy would probably be sent off to boarding school, while his sisters would remain under the governess’s rule with perhaps a year or two of school to be ‘finished’.
Salaries for nannies varied, depending on the number of children and the grandness of the household; a nanny in a very exalted household might find herself with a staff of nursery maids, laundry maids, and a nursery footman or two to supervise. Or she might be the sole employee in charge of the children. As room and board were obviously provided, a careful nanny could save much of her salary…which might be necessary, as we shall see. The Complete Servant (published 1825) lists salaries for head nurses at £18-25 guineas, with “perquisites” (tips) at christenings.
What happened to a nanny when “her” children left the nursery? It depended; the younger ones would move on to another position with a new family, perhaps to come back some day and care for the children of their own former babies. Word of mouth was important, and a nanny known to be good would be snapped up fairly promptly. In the 1880s and onward, formal training schools for nurses and nannies opened in London, along with nanny employment bureaus which went on to supply nannies to aristocratic and royal houses across Europe, as the fame of the English nanny spread.
Some employers were generous to their former nannies and provided a pension or even offered a home to beloved former nannies who had reached retirement age; others were forced to fall back on what savings they’d accrued over their careers and live in not-so-genteel poverty.