The Governesses Benevolent Institution was founded in London in 1841 to assist governesses during illness, poverty and old age. It was renamed the Schoolmistresses and Governesses Institution in 1952 and was still in existence in 2004.
The Governesses Mutual Assurance Society was formed in 1829 to help alleviate the hardship suffered by governesses, especially in illness and old age. It planned to make grants in cases of illness and assist governesses to purchase annuities from funds subscribed to by the general public. The Society did not prosper, however, and ended in 1838. An attempt was made in 1841 to resurrect the Society and at a public meeting in May 1841, a two-fold institution comprising the Governesses' Benevolent Institution and the Governesses' Provident Fund was proposed. Fund raising was very slow and the institution's committee decided in 1843 that reorganisation was necessary.
1843 - 1860
The modified institution concentrated initially on providing immediate relief for needy governesses. The Ladies' Committee began administering temporary payments in 1843. The Provident Fund was established soon after to encourage governesses to purchase annuities that would mature on their retirement. The Institution began investing in Government securities and private enterprise for financing annuities. Annuities were allocated to applicants elected to receive them by the Institution's membership and the first was given in 1844.
In 1845, the Institution established a home for unemployed governesses in Harley Street. It moved to Cavendish Street in 1927 and closed in 1930. The Institution opened an Asylum for Aged Governesses in Prince of Wales Road, Kentish Town in 1849. Queen's College in Harley Street was set up in 1848 with funding from the Institution to provide an education for school mistresses and governesses. The Institution received its Royal Charter in 1848 and Queen's College received its own charter in 1853. These early achievements occurred during the tenure of Reverend David Laing (1800-1860), the Institution's first Honourary Secretary who served from 1843 until his death.
1861 - 1939
The Asylum was sold in 1870 and the funds were used to purchase land at Chislehurst, Kent where a terrace of 12 houses were opened in 1872. These houses were renamed 'The Home for Retired Governesses' in 1911 and then 'The Queen Mary Homes for Governesses' in 1946. In 1905, the Institution was given 'Fairmont', a cliff-top house at Shanklin, Isle of Wight and it was opened in the same year as a holiday home for working governesses. Fairmont was sold in 1937 and the funds were used to establish the Assisted Holiday Scheme. In 1908, Mrs Ada Lewis-Hill bequeathed half of her estate to the Institution for building another governesses home. A scheme was set up to invest the funds for this purpose in 1917, and in 1924 'The Ada Lewis Governesses Homes' were opened at Beckenham, Kent.
In 1913, a private Act of Parliament gave the Institution wider powers for managing its investments and a reorganisation occurred in 1934 when a separate Executive Committee was formed to assist the Board of Management. The Almoner's Department was formed in 1930 to arrange visits to applicants and receivers of temporary assistance and annuities. The Clothing Department was formed soon afterwards to supply items of clothing and blankets to applicants and the Employment Department was incorporated in 1934 to continue provision of training and an employment agency for governesses. The Provident Department advised governesses and schoolmistresses on purchasing annuities for their old age but it was replaced in 1937 when members of the Institution's board set up the Governesses Mutual Provident Fund, an independent association for providing pensions. The company was renamed the Women Teachers Thrift Association in 1944. The Jubilee Memorial Fund for Aged and Destitute Governesses, founded in 1887 by Miss M.C. Westall, was amalgamated with the Governesses Benevolent Institution in 1938.
1940 - 1991
In 1946, Queen Mary gave a substantial gift to the Institution. The gift was the endowment that the Queen had provided for the Holiday Home for Governesses between 1902 and 1944.
The decline in the numbers of governesses requiring financial assistance or employment services led to widespread changes to the structure and responsibilities of the Institution. The Governesses Benevolent Institution Act of 1952 amended the charter to permit eligibility for women teachers in independent schools and changed the Institution's name to the 'Schoolmistresses and Governesses Benevolent Institution' to reflect this. The Charity Commissioners allowed the Institution to admit elderly women from non-teaching professions to enter its residential accommodation in 1982 although its funds could not be used to help them financially.
The Institution purchased and converted 'Northwood', a house in Chislehurst, in 1955 for use as a nursing home for invalids. The Queen Mary Homes in Chislehurst were demolished in 1966 to make way for the construction of Queen Mary House, a purpose built residential home for accommodating 44 residents. Queen Mary House opened in June 1967, causing the closure of Ada Lewis Homes and Northwood. An additional wing was erected in 1972 for less active or temporarily sick residents.
In 1991, the Institution still offered free annuities, a residential home, visiting, grants for many special needs, help with holidays, and confidential advice to eligible women. Applicants must have been employed for the major part of their working lives in the private sector of education as governesses, schoolmistress, self employed teachers of language or music etc., matrons, secretaries, and teachers in adult, further and higher education. Applications were mainly invited from British subjects but under some circumstances, non-British nationals were assisted. Queen Mary House accepted applications for residence from women from comparable careers or professions.
The Institution was still in existence in 2004.
Offices of the Schoolmistresses and Governesses Benevolent Institution
1843-1912 32 Sackville Street, London W
1912-1916 Walter House, 418-422 Strand, London WC
1916-1934 Dacre House, 5 Arundel Street, Strand, London WC2
1934-1959 58 Victoria Street, London SW1
1959-1981 39 Buckingham Gate, London SW1
1981- Queen Mary House, Manor Park Road, Chislehurst, Kent BR7 5PY
Honorary Secretaries and Secretaries of the Institution
Reverend David Laing 1843-1860 (Founder and Honorary Secretary)
C.W. Klugh 1845-1902
Reverend Alfred Buss (Honorary Secretary) 1886-1912
A. Wesley Dennis 1902-1921
A.F. Mullins 1921-1933
Colonel Sir Geoffrey Codrington 1933-1946
J.W. Beattie 1946-1972
F.G. Waters 1972-1974
R.W. Hayward 1974-