Philobiblon: Those poor governesses

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Those poor governesses

I get a regular catalogue from a London seller of second-hand and antiquarian books relating to women and feminism. (Email me if you want details.)

In this morning's I was struck by one entry: Governesses' Benevolent Institution, List of Candidates for the November Election 1870. The description says:

"This booklet contains the biographical details of 156 women who were applying to the Governesses' Benevolent Institution to become annuitants. The Institution elected five annuitants who were each given £20 per annum. 'In addition to the 10 shillings collected for the highesy unsuccessful candidate, the Board proposes to lessen the disappointment of failure by giving 10 shillings to each of the next five upon the poll.' Each of the candidates has set out details of her life and penury - one can sense the quiet desperation - and each has a named proposer."

So you had about a 3 per cent chance of success, and your entire personal circumstances were printed for the world to read - aren't you glad you live in the 21st century!

If you've got a spare £75, I can supply the details. I'm sure it would make fascinating reading, and it won't interfere with anyone's privacy now.


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