Between the 1880s and 1940s, numerous European women sought work as nannies, nurses, governesses and companions in the zenanas (women's quarters) of Indian princely households. What motivated these women to work in the South Asian harem—a space long constructed by Europeans as exotic, erotic and oppressive? How did the British colonial state intervene in the nominally sovereign Indian princely states to regulate gendered domestic labors that could potentially subvert imperial hierarchies? While the colonial state and European nurses/governesses themselves understood these labors as a civilizing mission, how did South Asian mistresses perceive these relationships? The interracial inter-caste/class transcultural domestic service of European women in empire unsettles the "White master—Native servant" framework of imperial domestic labor, while also complicating historiographical assumptions about colonial power dynamics.


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