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A nursemaid or nursery maid is a female servant who cares for children under the supervision of a senior servant like a nurse or nanny. This position is relatively unheard of in the modern world, as few people maintain households formal enough to require a nursemaid, although nursemaids can still be found in some corners of the world. Because nursemaids traditionally deal intimately with children on a daily basis, they often establish strong bonds with their charges, leading members of the public to think of them almost as surrogate mother figures.
The most senior servant designated to care for children is the nurse or nanny. In households where mothers rely on assistance for childcare, a nanny is usually enough. However, when a nanny is not sufficient, a nursemaid may be used. Nursemaids can be especially valuable in houses with multiple children, or children who are hard to handle. They are not as fully trained as nannies, and they are responsible to the nanny, who may in turn be overseen by another member of the household staff, depending on the hierarchy of the household.
A wide variety of tasks may fall under the provenance of the nursemaid. Nursemaids typically clean the nursery, keeping things tidy and keeping track of the children of the house. They also may help children dress for school and outings, and it is not uncommon for a nursemaid to supervise children at play or while they work on school assignments. These domestic servants essentially handle the aspects of childcare which a mother may find not to her taste, ranging from changing diapers to taking children to the dentist.
Many old-fashioned novels feature nursemaids, or derisive comments about them. Children often chafed against the presence of a nursemaid as they grew older, arguing that they no longer required constant supervision. Since the concept of a nursemaid was once widely known and accepted, a comment like “she hardly needs a nursemaid to finish that task” would have been clearly understood, especially among the upper classes.
As you might expect, the primary job requirement for a nursemaid is a desire to work with children. Nursemaids are typically expected to have some sort of training in childcare as well, and first aid training is a definite bonus. Since this position is relatively obsolete, it can be difficult to find positions as a nursemaid; a knowledge of the protocol of formal households can be a big help, as it will assist a nursemaid in settling in.