The Problem of the Distressed Gentlewoman
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Elizabeth M. Sewell, who wrote at length of distressed gentlewomen who begin life penniless, and in all probability will end it penniless, had been driven to keep a small school after her fathers death left her, together with her mother and sisters, with an inadequate income. More ominously, John D. Milne suggested that for untrained gentlewomen the hardships of a governesss life were so severe that to many they were more than they can bear; either health fails, or, which is of as great importance, the geniality of mind gives way. J. D. Milne's socio-psychological diagnosis, with its hints of alienated anomie, has a familiar, modern ring. The Colonial Reformer, Edward Gibbon Wakefield, asserted in 1833 that governesses formed largest occupational class in insane asylums. Harriet Martineau agreed in 1859 and Elizabeth Sewell lamented that Our lunatic asylums, our workhouses, and alas for England that it should be so even our penitentiaries, are too often homes for decayed, distressed, destitute governesses.