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Cultivating Woman: Men's Pursuit of Intellectual Equality in the Late British Enlightenment

  • Arianne Chernock


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1 Norgate, Thomas Starling, “On the Rights of Woman,” The Cabinet (Norwich, 1795), 1:178–85, 184.

2 Barbauld, Anna, “The Rights of Woman,” in Selected Poetry and Prose, ed. McCarthy, William and Kraft, Elizabeth (Peterborough, Ontario, 2002), 130–31. Barbauld herself, however, benefited from attending a number of lectures at Warrington Academy, where her father was an instructor and her brother received his education.

3 For an illuminating discussion of enlightened gallantry, see Taylor, Barbara, “Feminists versus Gallants: Manners and Morals in Enlightenment Britain,” in Women, Gender and Enlightenment, ed. Taylor, Barbara and Knott, Sarah (London, 2005), 3052.

4 The term “feminist” is, of course, anachronistic; “feminism” was not introduced into the English language until the late nineteenth century. That the term is anachronistic, however, does not mean that it is inappropriate, for these men and women did see themselves as engaged in the project of “challenging male hegemony”—a definition of “feminism” recently put forward by Karen Offen, in a talk titled “Thoughts on Writing the History of European Feminisms (1700–1950)” (presented at the Huntington Women's Studies Seminar, Huntington Library, San Marino, CA, 13 March 2004).

5 For just a few recent examples of works highlighting women's almost exclusive role in eighteenth-century feminist activity, see Bruder, Helen, William Blake and the Daughters of Albion (New York, 1997); Porter, Roy, The Creation of the Modern World: The Untold Story of the British Enlightenment (New York, 2000); and Stafford, William, English Feminists and Their Opponents in the 1790s: Unsex’d and Proper Females (New York, 2002). At the same time, many scholars have paved the way for my research into the collaborative dimensions of early feminism. See esp. Michèle Cohen, “‘To think, to Compare, to Combine, to Methodise’: Notes towards Rethinking Girls’ Education in the Eighteenth Century,” in Taylor and Knott, Women, Gender and Enlightenment, 224–42; Gleadle, Kathryn, The Early Feminists: Radical Unitarians and the Emergence of the Women's Rights Movement, 1831–1851 (New York, 1995); Guest, Harriet, Small Change: Women, Learning, Patriotism, 1750–1810 (Chicago, 2000); St. Clair, William, The Godwins and the Shelleys (London, 1989); Strauss, Sylvia, “Traitors to the Masculine Cause”: The Men's Campaigns for Women's Rights (Westwood, CT, 1982); Stuurman, Siep, François Poulain de la Barre and the Invention of Modern Equality (Cambridge, MA, 2004); Taylor, Barbara, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge, 2003); and Watts, Ruth, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760–1860 (London, 1998).

6 Bruder, William Blake and the Daughters of Albion, 93. Bruder does acknowledge, however, that “there was a small coterie of radicals who did attempt to champion the rights of women” (93).

7 See Scott, Joan Wallach's classic essay, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” in her Gender and the Politics of History (New York, 1988), 2850.

8 I am indebted to Alice Browne for the distinction between “instrumentalist” and “egalitarian” feminisms. See Browne, Alice, The Eighteenth-Century Feminist Mind (Brighton, 1987).

9 See Philp, Mark, “The Fragmented Ideology of Reform,” in The French Revolution and British Popular Politics, ed. Philp, Mark (Cambridge, 1991), 5077.

10 Locke, John, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in The Enlightenment Reader, ed. Kramnick, Isaac (New York, 1995), 186.

11 Malkin, Benjamin Heath, Essays on Subjects Connected with Civilization (London, 1795), 258.

12 Bristed, John, A Pedestrian Tour through part of the Highlands of Scotland, in 1801 (London, 1803), 1:332, 333–34, 355.

13 Knox, Vicesimus, Liberal Education (Dublin, 1781), 173.

14 George Butler, “On Female Literature,” delivered 3 December 1795, reprinted in “Minutes and Essays of the Speculative Society of Cambridge, 1788–1795,” British Library, London, Add MSS, 19716.

15 For background information on Wright, 's work, see his own A Review of the Missionary Life and Labors of Richard Wright: Written by Himself (London, 1824) as well as his unpublished “Autobiography,” Harris Manchester College, Oxford, MS Wright 11. For Addison's comment, see Joseph Addison, The Spectator 2, no. 215 (November 1711): 338.

16 Norgate, “On the Rights of Woman,” 179.

17 Jardine, Alexander, Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal, & C. (London, 1788), 311.

18 Wright, Richard, An Essay on the Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1815), 45.

19 Enfield, William, “The Enquirer. No. III,” Monthly Magazine 1 (April 1796): 181.

20 See Gleadle, , The Early Feminists, and “British Women and Radical Politics in the Late Nonconformist Enlightenment, c. 1780–1830,” in Women, Privilege and Power, ed. Vickery, Amanda (Stanford, CA, 2001), 123–51; Plant, Helen, “Gender and the Aristocracy of Dissent: A Comparative Study of the Beliefs, Status and Roles of Women in Quaker and Unitarian Communities, 1770–1830, with Particular Reference to Yorkshire” (DPhil thesis, University of York, 2000); Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination; and Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760–1860. Holt, Raymond's older The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress in England (London, 1938) also contains a limited discussion of the feminist strands in Unitarian thinking.

21 Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, 104.

22 For background information on the Scottish Enlightenment, see Phillipson, Nicholas's succinct “The Scottish Enlightenment,” in The Enlightenment in National Context, ed. Porter, Roy and Teich, Mikulas (Cambridge, 1981), 1940; Spadafora, David, The Idea of Progress in Eighteenth-Century Britain (New Haven, CT, 1990), as well as Chitnis, Anand C., The Scottish Enlightenment (London, 1976). For a sustained discussion of the special place of woman within Scottish stadial theory, see Ignatieff, Michael, “John Millar and Individualism,” in Wealth and Virtue: The Shaping of Political Economy in the Scottish Enlightenment, ed. Hont, Istvan and Ignatieff, Michael (Cambridge, 1983), esp. 332–38; O’Brien, Karen, Narratives of Enlightenment: Cosmopolitan History from Voltaire to Gibbon (Cambridge, 1997); Mary Catherine Moran, “Between the Savage and the Civil: Dr. John Gregory's Natural History of Femininity,” 8–29; Sylvana Tomaselli, “Civilisation, Gender and Enlightened Histories of Woman,” 117–35, both in Taylor and Knott, Women, Gender and Enlightenment. For an extended discussion of women and sensibility, see Barker-Benfield, G. J., The Culture of Sensibility: Sex and Society in Eighteenth-Century Britain (Chicago, 1992); Dwyer, John, Virtuous Discourse: Sensibility and Community in Late-Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh, 1987).

23 Millar, John, Observations Concerning the Distinction of Ranks in Society (London, 1771), 19.

24 Ibid., 65.

25 Bristed, A Pedestrian Tour, 329.

26 Ibid., 412–13.

27 Malkin, Essays on Subjects Connected with Civilization, 5. From 1809 to 1828, Malkin served as headmaster of the grammar school at Bury St. Edmunds. In 1830, he became a professor of history at the University of London.

28 In Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination, Taylor observes that “Eighteenth-Century Britain educated its girl children very badly” (44). For general introductions to education in eighteenth-century Britain, see Camic, Charles, Experience and Enlightenment: Socialization for Cultural Change in Eighteenth-Century Scotland (Edinburgh, 1983); McLachlan, H., English Education under the Test Acts: Being the History of Nonconformist Academies, 1662–1820 (Manchester, 1931); Richardson, Alan, Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice, 1780–1832 (Cambridge, 1994); and Lawson, J. and Silver, H., A Social History of Education in England (London, 1973). For examinations of women's specific educational experiences, particularly in the nonconformist context, see Kamm, Josephine, Hope Deferred: Girls’ Education in English History (London, 1965); Reeves, Marjorie, Female Education and Nonconformist Culture, 1700–1900 (Leicester, 1997); and Watts, Gender, Power and the Unitarians in England, 1760–1860.

29 Bage, Robert, Man as He Is (London, 1792), iii.

30 Botany, although a science, was seen by many as suitable for female study. According to Ann B. Shteir, the very name “Flora” “resonates with traditional associations from myth and literature that link flowers and gardens with women and nature and with femininity, modesty, and innocence. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, cultural linkages like these helped smooth the path for women into botanical work of many kinds” (Cultivating Women, Cultivating Science: Flora's Daughters and Botany in England, 1760 to 1860 [Baltimore, 1996], 3). This is not to suggest that botany was an uncontroversial subject of study. Anti-Jacobin author Richard Polwhele denounced “botanizing girls” in his 1798 poem The Unsex’d Females and linked the study of plants with the study of human sexuality.

31 Cohen, Michèle, “The Curriculum and the Construction of Gender Difference in England and France, 1780–1870” (paper presented at the Berkshire Conference on the History of Women, Scripps College, Claremont, CA, June 2005), 4.

32 See ibid., 9, and, for a more general discussion, see Cohen, “To think, to Compare, to Combine, to Methodise,” 1–14.

33 Garnett, Thomas, Observations on a tour through the Highlands (London, 1800), 2:204.

34 Malkin, Essays on Subjects Connected with Civilization, 259–60.

35 David Steuart Erskine (Lord Buchan), “On Female Education,” The Bee, 22 June 1791, reprinted in The Anonymous and Fugitive Essays of the Earl of Buchan, Collected from Various Periodical Works (Edinburgh, 1812), 29. The Bee, published by Dr. James Anderson, began publication in December 1790. Erskine contributed over 130 articles to the publication, many of which addressed female education and women's rights more generally. For more information on Erskine's life, see Lamb, James Gordon, “David Steuart Erskine, 11th Earl of Buchan: A Study of his Life and Correspondence” (DPhil thesis, University of St. Andrews, 1963).

36 Cited in St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys, 509.

37 Knox, Liberal Education, 330. According to Cohen, Liberal Education went through ten editions in the ten years following its first publication; see her “To think, to Compare, to Combine, to Methodise,” 239.

38 Knox, Liberal Education, 173.

39 See Walker, Gina Luria, “Curricula for Autodidacts” (paper presented at International Society for Eighteenth Century Studies Congress, the Clark Library, Univerity of California, Los Angeles, 2003).

40 Priestley, Joseph, Reflections on Death: A Sermon, on Occasion of the Death of the Rev. Robert Robinson, of Cambridge, Delivered at the New Meeting in Birmingham, June 13, 1790 (Birmingham, 1790), 23.

41 Lawrence, James Henry, The Empire of the Nairs; or the Rights of Women (London, 1811), 1:126.

42 Thomas Beddoes's biographer, Stansfield, Dorothy A., observes in Thomas Beddoes, M.D., 1760–1808 (Dordrecht, 1984), 190, that the scientist believed women “to be capable of a higher standard of intellectual achievement than was usually allowed them” and accordingly designed his lectures for both sexes. Bentley supposedly “drafted a scheme for the improvement of female education which, when read by some friends in manuscript, was much commended” (, R. B., Thomas Bentley, 1730–1780, of Liverpool, Etruria, and London [Guildford, UK, 1927], 25). Unfortunately, the manuscript was never published. Darwin, Erasmus wrote A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools (Derby, 1797), which recommended that girls receive training in chemistry. James Keir wrote a “Dialogue on Chemistry between a father and a daughter.” For background information on the Lunar Society as a whole, see Uglow, Jenny's intelligent group biography, Lunar Men: Five Friends Whose Curiosity Change the World (New York, 2003).

43 Schimmelpenninck, Mary Anne, Life of Mary Anne Schimmelpenninck (London, 1858), 3637.

44 Cited in Stansfield, Thomas Beddoes, 190.

45 Richard Lovell Edgeworth Notebook, containing material for “Continuation of Early Lessons,” 1814, Bodleian Library, Oxford, Literary and Educational MSS, MS. Eng. Misc.c.894.

46 Anderson, John, Extracts from the Latter Will and Codicil of Professor John Anderson (Glasgow, 1796), 1617. For general background information on John Anderson and Anderson's Institution, see Sexton, A. Humboldt, The First Technical College: A Sketch of the History of “The Andersonian,” and the Institutions Descended From It, 1796–1894 (London, 1894); and Muir, James, John Anderson Pioneer of Technical Education and the College He Founded (Glasgow, 1950).

47 John Anderson, “Essay on Natural History,” n.d., University of Strathclyde, John Anderson Collection MS.

48 See Anderson, John's own description of his courses at the University of Glasgow in his Institutes of Physics (Glasgow, 1777). While women may not have been in attendance at these early lectures (the evidence is inconclusive), they were certainly never far from Anderson's mind. In writing his will in 1796, Anderson explicitly drew on his experience teaching laborers to conclude that women could also become “distinguished in a high degree, for their general knowledge, as well as for their abilities and progress in their several arts” (Extracts from the Latter Will, 16–17).

49 See “List for the first series of lectures,” 1796, University of Strathclyde Archives, John Anderson Papers, OB/5/1/2/1.

50 See “Transcripts of Minute Books,” University of Strathclyde Archives, John Anderson Papers, OB/1/2/1. Emphasis mine.

51 “Transcripts of Minute Books,” University of Strathclyde Archives, John Anderson Papers, OB/1/2/1.

52 Lythe, S. G. E., Thomas Garnett (1766–1802): Highland Tourist, Scientist and Professor, Medical Doctor (Glasgow, 1983), 23.

53 Garnett, Observations on a tour through the Highlands, 2:202.

54 As Smith, Sarah J. notes (“Retaking the Register: Women's Higher Education in Glasgow and Beyond, c. 1796–1845,” Gender and History 12, no. 2 [July 2000]: 326), the Ladies Courses were an “important introduction for thousands of women (and working men) to the previously inaccessible realm of higher education.”

55 See Jones, Henry Bence, The Royal Institution: Its Founder and Its First Professors (London, 1871), 137.

56 See Janes, Regina, “On the Reception of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman,” Journal of the History of Ideas 39, no. 2 (1978): 293302.

57 Anderson, Extracts from the Latter Will, 16–17.

58 Garnett, Observations on a tour through the Highlands, 2:205.

59 Edgeworth, Maria, Letters to Literary Ladies (London, 1799), 111.

60 Malkin, Essays on Subjects Connected with Civilization, 262–63.

61 The insistence on female higher education as preparation for wifedom and motherhood would be a mainstay of Victorian discourse. For an analysis of the nineteenth-century context for the education debate, see Jordan, Ellen, “‘Making Good Wives and Mothers?’ The Transformation of Middle-Class Girls’ Education in Nineteenth-Century Britain,” History of Education Quarterly 31, no. 4 (Winter 1991): 439–62.

62 As Uglow observes in Lunar Men, the Lunar men “saw their sons as potential captains of industry or engineers or chemists or doctors” and their daughters, though educated in the most difficult sciences, “plainly as future wives and mothers” (313).

63 Aikin, John, Letters from a Father to his Son, on various topics, relative to Literature and the Conduct of Life: Written in the years 1792 and 1793 (London, 1793), 340.

64 Knox, Vicesimus, “On Female Literature,” in Essays Moral and Literary (London, 1774), 333–34.

65 William Frend to Mary Frend, soon after 22 November 1784, Cambridge University Library Manuscripts Department, Cambridge, Add. MSS 7886–7887 T49.

66 See Hill, Bridget, “Female Education,” in Eighteenth-Century Women: An Anthology, ed. Hill, Bridget (London, 1984), 45.

67 Hayley, William Esq., A Philosophical, Historical and Moral Essay on Old Maids: By a Friend to the Sisterhood (London, 1785), xiii, xvi. See Guest, Small Change, 95–151, for an extensive discussion of Elizabeth Carter as “learned lady” and “public spectacle.” Harcstark, Sylvia also provides an illuminating discussion of the bluestocking women in her The Bluestocking Circle: Women, Friendship, and the Life of the Mind in Eighteenth-Century England (Oxford, 1990).

68 Gregory, John M.D., A Father's Legacy to his Daughters (London, 1774), 3132. According to the British Library Public Catalogue, this book went through over twenty-two printings between its first publication in 1774 and 1828.

69 See Taylor, “Feminists versus Gallants,” for further discussion and dissection of these sometimes subtle distinctions.

70 Bristed, A Pedestrian Tour, 1:423.

71 Knox, Essays Moral and Literary, 332. Knox's statement may have been a direct reference to Dr. Johnson's earlier description of the bluestocking Elizabeth Carter: “My old friend, Mrs. Carter, could make a pudding as well as translate Epictetus from the Greek and work a handkerchief as well as compose a poem” (cited in Adburgham, Alison, Women in Print: Writing Women and Women's Magazines From the Restoration to the Accession of Victoria [London, 1972], 135).

72 Knox, Essays: Moral and Literary, 333.

73 William Shepherd, “A Song in Praise of Miss Anne Wakefield, frequently known by the name of Deiopoea,” ca. 1801, Harris Manchester College, Oxford, Shepherd MSS, vol. 6, f. 35.

74 Thomas Poole to Mrs. Haskins, 22 September 1794, reprinted in Thomas Poole and His Friends (London, 1888), 98. The Pantisocrats sought to establish an egalitarian community in America, along the lines of the settlement planned by Joseph Priestley and Thomas Cooper on the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania. For additional background information on the Pantisocrats, see William St. Clair, The Godwins and the Shelleys; MacGillivrary, J. R., “The Pantisocracy Scheme and Its Immediate Background,” in Studies in English, by Members of University College, Toronto, ed. Wallace, Malcolm W. (Toronto, 1931), 131–69.

75 Wollstonecraft, Mary, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792; repr., Cambridge, 1995), 237.

76 Mary Hays, “Letter from M.H.,” Monthly Magazine, March 1797, 195.

77 Wright, Richard, “Letters on Woman,” Universalist's Miscellany 4 (March 1800): 112.

78 See Hume, David, Essays, Moral and Political (London, 1748). For an analysis of the role of the salonnière as handmaiden to the production of knowledge in eighteenth-century France, see Goodman, Dena, The Republic of Letters: A Cultural History of the French Enlightenment (Ithaca, NY, 1994).

79 Cited in Platts, John, ed., The Female Mentor; or Ladies’ Class-Book: Being a New Selection of Three Hundred and Sixty-Five Reading Lessons, Relating to the Education, Characteristics, and Accomplishment of Young Women (Derby, 1823), 1819.

80 Priestley, Reflections on Death, 23.

81 Enfield, William, review of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, by Mary Wollstonecraft, Monthly Review 8 (June 1792): 198; emphasis mine.

82 Enfield, William, review of Letters for Literary Ladies, by Maria Edgeworth, Monthly Review 21 (September 1796): 25.

83 Enfield, William, “The Enquirer. No. III,” Monthly Magazine 1 (April 1796): 184; emphasis mine.

84 Erasmus Darwin, A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education in Boarding Schools, 11.

85 Ibid., 40–41.

86 Wright, Richard, “Letters on Women,” Universalist's Miscellany 3 (April 1799): 112.

87 Wright, Richard, “Letter VI on Women,” Universalist's Miscellany 5 (April 1801): 135–36.

88 Wright, Richard, “Letter VII on Women,” Universalist's Miscellany 5 (August 1801): 305. It is possible that this “female astronomer” was Caroline Herschel.

89 Wright, “Letters on Women,” 113.

90 See, respectively, David Steuart Erskine, “On Female Education,” The Bee, 20 July 1791, reprinted in The Anonymous and Fugitive Essays, 45, and “On Female Education,” The Bee, 22 June 1791, reprinted in The Anonymous and Fugitive Essays, 30.

91 David Steuart Erskine, “On Female Education,” The Bee, 22 June 1791, reprinted in The Anonymous and Fugitive Essays, 30.

92 Ibid., 30–31.

93 David Steuart Erskine, “On Female Education,” The Bee, 20 July 1791, reprinted in the The Anonymous and Fugitive Essays, 46.

94 Lawrence, The Empire of the Nairs; or the Rights of Women, 3:40. Although not explicitly indebted to Hamilton, Elizabeth's earlier Translation of the letters of a Hindoo Rajah (London, 1796), Lawrence similarly draws on Indian culture to provide a sometimes scathing social commentary about English mores.

95 Jardine, Letters from Barbary, France, Spain, Portugal & C, 1:313–14.

98 Ibid., 316, 331.

99 Ibid., 145.

100 See Malkin, Essays on Subjects Connected with Civilization, 262–63. Malkin believed that although the sexes shared “the same capacity of mind,” their occupations in life were “necessarily different.”

101 Walker, Gina Luria, “Benevolent Misogyny: Mary Hays in The Monthly Magazine” (paper presented at “Places of Exchange: Magazines, Journals and Newspapers in British and Irish Culture, 1688–1945,” University of Glasgow, July 2002).

102 For one of the most recent discussions of 1798 as a turning point in feminist activity, see Clark, Anna, Scandal (Princeton, NJ, 2004), esp. chap. 6.

103 Cited in Custer, Paul A., “Refiguring Jemima: Gender, Work and Politics in Lancashire, 1770–1820” (paper presented at North American Conference on British Studies, Philadelphia, October 2004), 31.

104 Thompson, William, Appeal of One Half the Human Race, Women, Against the Pretensions of the Other Half, Men (London, 1825), xiii.

105 Ibid., 17.

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Cultivating Woman: Men's Pursuit of Intellectual Equality in the Late British Enlightenment

  • Arianne Chernock


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