Tag Archives: nannies
Author Talk – Katherine Holden – Midsomer Norton Library
Where: Midsomer Norton Library
When: Tuesday 13 May 19:00 – 20:00
In this intriguing talk Katherine Holden (Research Fellow at UWE) recounts where our tradition of employing nannies comes from and the ways in which it has and hasn’t changed over the past century. From the Norland Nannies’ ‘method’ and the magical Mary Poppins to today’s ‘Supernanny’. The tales told in this history reach to the heart of the nanny dilemma that parents still struggle with today.
FREE event but book your place at Midsomer Norton Library or phone Council Connect on 01225 394041.
Was Mary Poppins a servant… or a Lady?
Was Mary Poppins a servant… or a Lady?
Nanny Knows Best author, Katherine Holden, reveals the changing status of the British nanny in this article published by The Lady magazine.
In 1910, when army officer’s wife Joan Kennard was looking for a nanny (children’s nurse) for her two young sons, one of her first considerations was whether or not the nurse should be ‘a lady’. And she was decidedly against the idea. Joan had consulted Mrs Boucher, owner of an agency supplying nannies to the upper and middle classes throughout the early and mid-20th century and, as Joan explained in a letter to her mother, her chief concern was that Mrs Boucher was trying to foist lady nurses on her. She was determined to resist to the last if she could.
In the end, she was forced to give in as no other suitable applicants appeared. She was reassured, however, by the fact that, although the nurse on offer called herself a lady, as a quiet-looking, middle-aged farmer’s daughter (an occupation on the borderlines of gentility) she would not give them any trouble.
Lady nurses became increasingly common at the turn of the 20th century as more ‘respectable’ women with limited education needed to work to earn a living. In the big houses they had nursery maids to assist them with childcare, and servants to do the cleaning and washing.
Finding reliable servants became more difficult as the century progressed, however, resulting in an oversupply of ladies wanting to be children’s nurses but fewer maids available to wait upon them. The ‘trouble’ to which Joan was referring plagued nanny employers throughout the century. This was the lady nurses’ belief that they should not be expected to do any housework.
Advice columnists tried to clarify the difference between ordinary children’s nurses and lady nurses. In The Lady in September 1905, a correspondent was advised that a lady nurse ‘does not clean her nurseries, nor carry up coals, water or meals’. Yet many employers ignored this advice and informed applicants that, in addition to childcare, they would be doing light or slight housework, or that no other servant was kept.
Some advertisements indicated that a lady was either preferred or not objected to, or that applicants should be ladylike. These were coded references to the fact that they might be expected to do some work not normally performed by ladies.
Most nannies had more humble origins. Employers were particularly keen to have country girls, believed to be healthier and a better influence on the children than girls from the city. While the majority of nannies worked alone or with one other servant, in the bigger houses they started as nursery maids and often worked their way up to become head nurse or nanny. This was a good career move as the status of a head nurse was higher than that of other servants. They had a closer relationship with the family and, if they worked for the aristocracy, might have direct contact with the rich and famous at parties, and also in the drawing room when they brought their charges down to see their parents during children’s hour.
Annie Turrell, head nurse for the Bankes Family at Kingston Lacy in Dorset during the early 1900s, was in this situation. One of seven children, her parents had been farm labourers from Essex living in a cramped cottage, and she moved far away from her childhood home to find work. One of her charges remembered her parading majestically behind the pram with nursery maids in tow, but she left soon afterwards for an even better position.
Although never considering herself a lady, Annie was employed to look after the young Lord Portarlington, heir to Emo Court in Ireland. Here she was in an enviable position, in sole charge of an only child with a nursery maid and a host of other servants to wait upon her.
While many families continued to recruit country girls like Annie, concerns were often expressed about the rough manners and values transmitted to upper-class children if they were not looked after by ladies. It was for this reason that in 1892 Emily Ward founded the first nursery-nurse training college, the Norland Institute, which raised the status of nannies into a profession and recruited only the daughters of gentlewomen.
But, while there was high demand for their services, many mothers felt uncomfortable with this new breed of modern nurse whose social status, like that of the less welleducated lady nurses, was rather too near their own. A mother, Joan Bateson, writing in Nursery World magazine in the 1920s, wondered ‘What should we call her? Where ought she to feed? Will she hate your friends, or will she want to know them? If you are smoking, do you offer her a cigarette?’
Few women wanted to be servants after the Second World War and many mothers were desperate to find nannies who were willing to muck in with the chores. In correspondence columns, nannies and mothers debated whether or not housework should be included in addition to childcare, and what the job should be called.
Trying to cope with ‘rations, coupons, housekeeping, sickness, etc’, one mother longed for a ‘jolly, understanding, honest-to-goodness soul who is not too superior’ and asked readers to invent a title for the type of helper she required.
By the 1950s, advertisers and employment agencies rarely linked the word ‘lady’ to nannies, even in The Lady magazine, and nanny agencies today never mention the word. Yet terms such as ‘quality assured’, ‘fully screened’ and ‘staff of distinction’ suggest that in the 21st century the lady nurse may still not have entirely disappeared.
Images sourced/copyright: The Lady Magazine.
Nanny Knows Best: The History Of The British Nanny, by Katherine Holden, is published by The History Press, priced £18.99. http://www.lady.co.uk/people/features/3306-was-mary-poppins-a-servant-or-a-lady
‘Secret Heartache of Wartime Nannies’ Article
Secret heartache of wartime nannies
Posted: January 14, 2014|
Katherine Holden author of a new book on the history of nannies, highlights the pain for children and nannies when they had to part
When we think of the traditional pre-war nanny we often imagine a warm comforting person who was always around, kept on in the family after the children grew up.
But when I looked into this subject more deeply, while researching my book on the history of nannies, I found this was far from the case.
Very few families were rich enough to keep a nanny on when the children grew older, and most nannies only stayed for a few years at most.
Some families coped well with changes of carer. But many children were unable to talk about the heartbreaking pain they felt when their nannies left.
One woman I interviewed, who was never allowed to talk about a nanny who had died of TB, explained: “I can never accept losing people, never. I’m terrible still.”
We know now how important early attachments are for children but we usually assume this must be to a mother. Yet many pre-war mothers from wealthy families were distant figures, often idealised by children because of their absence from the nursery.
The child psychiatrist John Bowlby said that “for a child to be looked after entirely by a loving nanny, and then for her to leave when he is two or three, or even four or five, can be almost as tragic as the loss of a mother.”
Bowlby was an influential figure in post-war childcare debates and has often been blamed for making mothers feel guilty if they left their children. But for upper-middle class children from his background, changes of nanny could be as significant as the loss of a mother.
It was not just the child who found parting difficult, but also the nanny. One nanny shared her agony at leaving a much-loved charge with readers of Nursery World magazine in 1946.
She wrote: “My last charge is nearest to my heart and I can now think of him without the terrible heartache I used to have. I write to him and send him gifts but I never hear anything of him.”
Her letter struck a chord with readers and the nanny was amazed to receive so many letters in response expressing sympathy.
Edith Hunt, a Suffolk nanny in the 1920s, became so attached to one of her charges, who would not let her out of his sight after she had been away for a short holiday, that she had a “nervous breakdown”. Edith wrote: “It was and will always be the worst aspect of looking after other people’s children and the wrench for both nannies and children is almost unbearable at the time.”
When I discussed my findings with my father, Hyla Holden, a child psychiatrist who had been a colleague of John Bowlby in the 1960s, he was not surprised. He had researched the residential nurseries at Dyrham Park, a country house near Bath, now owned by the National Trust, and found similar kinds of heartache.
These nurseries took in babies and young children evacuated from poor families in London.
Like the wealthier people I talked to, whose parents often left them with nannies when they went abroad, these young evacuees rarely saw their mothers. Visits were permitted once a month but some parents came only once a year and a few children did not see them for the whole of the war. Some children forgot their parents and became attached to their nurses.
My father was interested in the longer-term effects for the children of being separated from their mothers.
He knew evacuation saved many lives and that the children at Dyrham had been physically well cared for, but he worried about their emotional health.
Some of the nurses became deeply attached to particular children, despite efforts to prevent this. One nurse wanted to adopt a boy she called “her treasure” and missed him terribly when he went home.
The evacuees my father talked to had hazy recollections of their time in the Dyrham nurseries. But he noted how often the phrase recurred in reports of former nursery children: “After I got home I was always the odd one out”.
At times Hyla felt that he was intruding into an area of great pain in their early lives.
One former resident recalled his desolation when another child who he believed was his brother was taken away and he recalled how the man who collected the boy simply said “he’s not son.”
Not long afterwards he, too, was carried away by two people he did not recognise, who turned out to be his grandmother and older brother. They took him back to an unfamiliar house and a family of strangers.
Further links were revealed between my own and my father’s research when I discovered that some of the staff at Dyrham had trained at Norland College.
This was the premier nanny training college, which is now located in Bath.
Trained nannies usually had to leave their jobs in private houses in 1941 (when women between 18 and 40 were required to do war work) in order to staff wartime nurseries.
I also found that nurseries of this kind played an important part in training student nannies and nursery nurses during and after the war.
However the former nannies I interviewed suggested that the children’s best interests were not always recognised and that the needs of the students often took priority.
Bowlby’s book Childcare and the Growth of Love stressed the importance of continuity of care and was used as a text book in nursery training colleges after the war.
But nannies did not remember his views being put into practice. In some nurseries, a student would be given a particular baby or child to look after exclusively for a month.
She would then move on to a new child. Speaking with hindsight, they felt the children suffered under this regime.
One nanny explained how they practised on the children, some of whom were as young as ten days old and was critical of parents who did not see their offspring “from one year to the next”.
Both my own and my father’s research show the importance of children’s relationships with their nurses and nannies, whether in private homes or residential nurseries.
Not only has former nannies’ heartache been largely invisible, but we have rarely listened to children’s feelings about the sudden disappearance of much-loved carers.
Their history and their voices deserve to be heard.
Katherine Holden is a research fellow in History at the University of the West of England.
Her book on the history of nannies explores relationships between nannies, mothers and children in 20th century Britain.
Read more: http://www.westerndailypress.co.uk/Secret-heartache-wartime-nannies/story-20438432-detail/story.html#ixzz2zTdL0G00