Charlotte Bronte's fictional character, Jane Eyre, was employed as a governess. So was Maria Von Trapp from "The Sound of Music." But the job title of governess has changed a bit through the years, and it now refers to someone who is more of an in-house tutor than a child care worker.
Teach Skills and Knowledge
According to the job description at GoNannies.com, a governess is an educated person who lives in the home and educates the child. Many governesses were once teachers who left the school system for whatever reason. Typically, a governess will have at least a four-year college degree. Families that travel extensively often need a governess to keep their children educated when public or private school isn't possible.
Travel With the Family
If you were to apply as a governess at Exclusively Nannies, travel would likely be one of your job requirements. According to this site that hires nannies and other child care specialists, governesses are typically required to travel with the family, though they have their own private accommodations. Often, as part of her duties, the governess will be responsible for teaching cultures and languages of other countries as the family travels abroad.
Provide Instruction in Etiquette
Manners still matter, and it often falls upon the family governess to help instill them in school-age children. Though modern children aren't as restricted as children who had governesses in the Victorian Era, they still need basic instruction in saying "please" and "thank you." And this is where the governess enters the picture. Aside from teaching reading, writing and arithmetic, a governess might take occasional meals with the children in her care and travel to public places with them to help them learn and understand the subtleties of socialization.
A governess lives with the family of the children she educates. She does this for several reasons: to be ready to travel when needed, as a security measure for children who might not be safe in public school -- such as the children of very wealthy or high-profile parents -- and to make things easier on both the governess and the family. Typically a governess has her own private quarters within the household and scheduled days off weekly.