"The headmistress is an evil, cruel woman. They call her Grelod the Kind. But she's not kind. She's terrible — to all of us!"In any good Orphanage of Fear or Boarding School of Horrors, especially one for girls, there will probably a wicked governess or headmistress who delights in frightening and tormenting the children under her care. Under her, meals are small and usually served cold, mattresses are hard, and punishments are severe. Among the various children in the orphanage, she may or may not have a particular target for her oppression. She is marked by her cold demeanor and lack of feeling. She often seems to have no concept of the fact that she is there to serve the children under her, and may insist that they serve her instead. Interestingly, this character is almost Always Female, usually an Old Maid who has become old, overweight or otherwise physically unattractive, and the failure to gain a family of her own often explains why she has become such a terrible person. Or, the fact that she is a terrible person explains why she never had her own family in a Chicken-Or-Egg scenario. Often a Child Hater. Compare The Fagin, a character who takes in orphans specifically to make them commit crimes. See also Evil Teacher, Battleaxe Nurse and Wicked Stepmother.
— Aventus Aretino, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
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Anime & Manga
- "Mama" from The Promised Neverland is a kind woman who acts nothing like this... Until it turns out that she is selling the children under her care to demons to protect herself, and using psychological mind games to root out anyone who could try to escape.
- Miss Pritchard's orphanage in a Max Mercury story set in 1910s New York. Mrs P hates children, but gets money from the city to raise them. She also gets a cut from child-hating toymaker Archimedes Schott, for supplying him with cheap labour. And then she takes the kids' wages as well. When Schott tells her he's going to burn down his factory, because Max has pressurised him into giving the kids more rights, she decides to send them to work that day anyway. (And yes, Archimedes looks a lot like his presumed descendent, Winslow.)
- New Gods: Granny Goodness from Apokolips could hardly be more inappropriately named, as her job is to brainwash the children in her orphanages into becoming servile, brutal slaves of Darkseid.
- Madam Draygone in The Bond of the Orphans, unaffectionately called "The Dragon" by the children at Draygone House. She yells at everyone, keeps the orphanage in question in disrepair, despises cheerful people and uses deprivation of food as a punishment.
Films — Animation
- Miss Hattie from Despicable Me runs a miserable orphanage where the children are forced to sell cookies but she keeps all the profits. If they don't sell enough they have to sit in a "box of shame".
- Ms. Mavilda from The Christmas Tree is a corrupt orphanage owner who spends all her profits on gambling rather than to help the orphans.
Films — Live-Action
- Thursdays Child, by Noel Streatfeild. St. Luke's Orphanage is run by "Matron" who steals from the children to enrich herself, and is physically abusive. After she leaves, it becomes an Orphanage of Love, due to the influence of Lady Corkberry.
- Miss Minchin from A Little Princess is all right at first, but as soon as it is revealed that Sara is an orphan, she turns her into a scullery maid with hardly any pay and shuts her up into a tiny attic, separated from all the other girls except one servant.
- The Smallville version of Granny Goodness, who uses her cover as an orphanage manager to brainwash and train girls for a future assault on Earth by Darkseid.
- Exploited in an episode of Supernatural. A group of ghost children in an abandoned former orphanage help the hunters banish the ghost of the mean old women ostensibly torturing them. Turns out the woman was a good ghost and the only thing keeping the evil children in check.
- In an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer the frat house that Reily lives in is haunted by the spirits (not ghosts) of the kids who lived there when it was an orphanage; their caretaker, Mrs. Holt, abused them and punished them severely for doing anything even remotely sexual (like preening in front of a mirror to look nice).
- Miss Hannigan from Annie runs the orphanage where Annie lives. She drinks and mistreats the girls under her charge, telling them not to sing, making them work like servants, and even having a whole song about how she hates little girls. Later she helps organize a plot to kidnap Annie for money. (Though in two of the three film versions, she eventually has a Heel–Face Turn when Annie's life is in danger.)
- In The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Honorhall Orphanage in Riften is run by a terrible old woman called Grelod the Kind. She constantly gives speeches to the kids about how worthless they are and that they wont be adopted, ever. The kids themselves tell you that beatings are frequent and snooping around the building reveals that there is a cell with shackles on the wall. The kind normally seen in prisons. Grelod also starves the children by giving them only one meal a day in the afternoon. She even keeps them from being adopted — she's that much of a power-hungry Control Freak. It's so bad, that one of the kids escaped and tried to recruit The Dark Brotherhood to kill Grelod. You can pretend to be from the Brotherhood and kill Grelod yourself (notably, you can do this openly and suffer no consequences for it). The children will cheer and praise the Dark Brotherhood. Needless to say, the Dark Brotherhood is not happy about this.
- Ms. Mary of Clock Tower arranges for the protagonist Jennifer and her friends to be adopted by Simon Barrows with seemingly no ill intent. Then the whole thing is revealed to be a group sacrifice for her satanic sons, Dan and Bobby.
- Grace Thermon in Morpheus. Subverted that the Goodman Home for Boys, where she worked, was actually an Orphanage of Love, and her harsh methods eventually got her fired. This didn't stop one of the heavily bullied orphans, Jan Pharris, from inviting her to his father's yacht, Herculania for mysterious reasons.
- Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Chipettes' backstory details their lives as young babies living in an Australian orphanage as the pets of a human girl named Olivia; the headmistress of the orphanage, Miss Grudge discovers they can sing, so she kidnaps them before Olivia is adopted, holds them hostage, and plans to exploit their singing talents for her own benefit. Luckily, they manage to escape.
- Time Squad: In the first episode we're introduced to Sister Thornly and her orphanage, "Sister Thornly's School for Wayward Tots", where one of the main characters, Otto Osworth, is living a miserable life at. Thornly is a cruel old nun who forbids Otto from reading, and punishes him frequently for it with chores that are ether humiliating or difficult for a seven year old. She's shown to use a whip to frighten children into working faster, and threaten them with starvation. Later it's revealed that she would drag her wards on "field trips" across the United States, forcing them to work laborious, dirty jobs that pay little with no child safety concerns in sight.
- Boo Boom! The Long Way Home: The Orphanage of Fear featured in episode 20 is run by a military version of this character named Hilda. She also appears in episode 22, in which she tries to get revenge on Boo-Boom and his animals for destroying her orphanage.