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A nursemaid is a girl or woman hired by an individual family to take care of the child or children of that family. In recent years people in this employ have frequently been called "nannies."

Everything that a mother ordinarily might do, and especially the more onerous tasks, could be turned over to a nursemaid. In a household wealthy enough to employ a nursemaid, and perhaps other servants, the mother would not likely be the one to wash diapers and tidy up the nursery. Feeding very young children and supervising somewhat older children at mealtime, seeing that the children are dressed in clean and otherwise appropriate clothing,watching over the children as they play outside, and other such tasks could be left to a nursemaid while the lady of the house concerns herself with more important affairs. By reason of her close involvement in most if not all of the daily affairs of the children, including maintaining proper standards of behavior, the nursemaid might easily establish the close kind of a relationship with the children that a mother would herself ordinarily form.

In cases where the lady of the household has died, a nursemaid might become even more fully a surrogate mother.