The Limits of Women’s Education (1700-1830)
Girls education varied in early modern Europe according to social class and their geographic location. Male children were given as full an education as the time period could offer, but girls were only educated until the age of 12, if they were given the opportunity. Past the age of 12 it was believed that education would make them crazy, make her too curious about things that they have no business knowing and might even hurt her chances of getting married, if she was too forward or had too much to say.
The rural and urban poor, which was most of the population generally had no options for education, at best they received vocational training which would not give them any social mobility. Schools for the poor did multiply during the 18th and 19th centuries like religious charities and orders, even girls were not forgotten because it was believed that if girls could read the Christian scriptures they would become better wives and mothers. The printing press also made it much easier and less costly to produce books so this did help the spread of literacy in Europe.
Wealthy families educated their daughters through home education and elite boarding schools. The growth of girl’s education became to be seen as a liberal right contributing to the betterment of the individual. But still, girl’s education was still limited in it’s scope and its ambitions.
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It was believed that women were weak, fragile and inferior to men intellectually, biologically and socially. They were referred to as “children of larger growth” and a man of sense would not waste his time on them. Although it was accepted that there were obvious differences between men and women, it was due to their lack of education more than anything else. In France, it was decided that a better education for girls would create a better society overall.
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Francois Poulain de la Barre’s (on the equality of the sexes, 1673).
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Mary Astell published her serious proposal to ladies in 1694, that proposed the first women’s university for those who did not want to marry.
Later in the 18th century, Germany’s first woman doctor, Dorothea Christina Leporin wrote “through investigation of the causes which prevent the female from studying” (1742) she says: If one admits that the female sex is capable of learning then one must also admit that it has received a calling to go with it”.
In France 1732, the Abbe de Saint Pierre set up a system of boarding schools and free day schools for all girls between 5 and 18, in 1785, Riballier proposed a system of public colleges (secondary schools) for girls that were run by the state. He argued that women’s ignorance was one of the reasons for evil doing in society.
Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1972) argued for the need to provide women with a decent education.
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The Ursuline order, the sisters of charity founded in 1633 by Louise de Maraillac and Saint Vincent de Paul spread throughout catholic areas offering free schools for the poor, boarding schools for the wealthy as well as caring for the sick. They also taught lessons in reading, religion, and needlework.
In England and Wales and Scotland, charity schools also spread thanks to the society for the propagation of Christian knowledge (1699). Education was rudimentary and emphasized religion and domestic skills. English schools were responsible girls find a trade (domestic service).
By 1733 there were 20,000 students in charity schools throughout the country. Girls also had access to village and dame schools as well as Sunday schools which “sought to rescue the lower classes from the pressure of want, the risk of ill usage and the wretchedness of vice. Some girls were removed from their family’s bad influence.
Salons played an important part in the education of women in France. The Marguise de Rambouillet held the first salon in her chambre bleu in 1618. In 1710, Marguise de Lambert opened a salon which was referred to as the “antechamber of the academy” since she had personally selected half of it’s members. Artists, writers and philosophes as well as aristocrats. Women played a major role in the development of the salon which has been referred to as the cradle of the French revolution. Many of our modern concepts of liberty, equality and democracy were initiated in this unique French institution. Groups of carefully selected people would get together to discuss a common topic that the saloniere decided on. It could be literature, art music, singing, philosophy among others. The French felt that this freedom was an opportunity to stimulate and enlarge intellectual life.
A salon needed 2 elements- a good hostess and important speakers. The salonieres would select the speaker and directed the flow of the conversation. “Hostess, like poets, are born, not made”. These women could rise to positions of power and influence because they were agents and granting agencies also. Their stamp of approval determined which books were read, what plays were attended and what art was purchased. They would often find funding for their protégés, some of whom they supported during their lifetime. Thee extensive networks were essential to success and few of these “important” people achieved success without their assistance. Their influence was also felt in the creation of cultural institutions like the academies, the comedias francaise, government pension lists, and the administration of the book trade. The modern world still continues to benefit from the influence wielded by this unique group of women. Many women involved in the circle of the salons elite would go on to found their own salons and become collectively known as the precieuses (a manner of thought and exchange which reflected the utmost delicacy of taste. And they fundamentally shaped the French Academy.
The most famous saloniere- Marie Therese Geoffrin (1699-1777). She was known as the “foster mother of the philosophes”. The philosophes were who set the tone at Geoffrins. Her involvement was considerable and she gave large amounts of her fortune to underwrite the encyclopedia. Her reputation, and she corresponded with Catherine the Great and Maria Theresa of Austria. She was a sober, honest woman, she was known for her many acts of kindness to the writers and artists who she constantly supported as well as her largesse to the poor.
While the salons were cultural institutions of great importance, they also represented a tangled web of human relationships. It inspired many long friendships, liaisons, trustees and even marriages.
One of the reasons why salons grew so fast was because of the restrictions life imposed on women in pre-revolutionary France. It was neither easy or safe to get about the dirty and uncomfortable streets of Paris. Walks, drives, concerts, lectures, and shopping trips were infrequent. Since they were barred from the outside world, women invited the world to them with amazing results. There were few journals and newspapers to spread new ideas, so the salon became the principal means by which opinion on current events was circulated. They offered a place where women and men could share common pursuits. This unique institution made substantial contributions to philosophy, literature, and the arts, as well as to the modern viewer society. Intellectual whereby liberty of thought, and liberty of discussion were shared goals. A sense of fraternity and comradeship characterized the best features of the salon.
“Equality of sex of mind, and of person was never more conspicuous than in the salon of the eighteenth century”.
(1685-1749) Claudine Alexandrine Geunrin de Tencin was famous for her salon at saint-cloud. She was a runaway nun, liberal and declassee and it was quite fitting that her illegitimate son became the famous editor of the encyclopedie.
Women Composers of 17th and 18th century
1. Francesca Caccini (1587-1640)
Was a lutenist, singer, teacher and a poet. Francesca was the daughter of one of the greatest Renaissance composer, Giulio. Despite having only a few music pieces that survived, she is still considered one of the most influential female European composers of the time. One of her biggest accomplishments was being the first woman stage worker in “La liberazione di Ruggiero”.
2. Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)
She was the most prolific composer in printed secular vocal music within the middle of 17th century, Venice. The majority of her work was written for soprano.
3. Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704)
Who entered a convent at the age of 16 and stayed for the rest of her life. She was a teacher for other nuns and considered to be the most productive woman composer of her time. Her instrumental composition “Sonate da Chiesa” was considered to be historic. Being known as only one of two Italian women to have written instrumental music.
Connections to “Millennium Hall” by Sarah Scott
Sarah Scott’s novel depicts a “Utopian “of community of women. It serves to illustrate the rewards of feminine virtue and to exemplify a society in which Christian virtues are diligently acted out-to the extreme.
Mrs. Maynard, the woman who runs Millenium Hall tells each woman’s story that lives there. Each woman, Miss Mancel, Mrs. Morgan, Lady Mary Jones, Miss Selvyn and Miss Trentham are models of virtue and chastity and have maintained these exemplary traits throughout the novel, going through many trials and temptations. These stories are basically autobiographical. Miss Selvyn, for example, was raised by a kind old man who was like a parent to her. (similar to Sarah Scott’s own childhood) when her uncaring, inattentive parents were replaced by her grandfathers, Conyers Middleton. Miss Morgan, again like Sarah Scott, married into an unhappy relationship and both Scott and Miss Morgan found happiness in female companionship, Miss Morgan and Miss Mancel and Scott with Lady Barbara Montagu. (Scott left her husband in 1752 after only being married a year which was absolutely scandalous for her time period). Scott also established various charities for poor women in the area just like in Millenium Hall.
Elizabeth Montagu, Scott’s sister, was a big influence on her. Montagu started to (not relate to Lady Bab). Host gatherings of what became the bluestocking society 1750. The ideals of the bluestockings are reflected in her novel.
Although, the women of Millenium Hall are independent they still are not liberated from 18th century ideas of Christian womanhood. They are still the embodiments of self-sacrificing virtue, always placing their duty to God and society before any personal happiness and self fulfillment. Even under the constraints of society to take control of their own lives, their own bodies, and their own difficult moral choices.
Miss Louisa went to French boarding school and her and Miss Melvyn were roommates and became good friends. Mr. Hintman wanted to make Louisa his mistress as soon as she was old enough but he dies, thank goodness, before she was exposed to this kind of debauchery. He does not leave her anything in his will. She finishes school and goes to work for a reputable farmer. Miss Melvyn becomes Mrs. Morgan, Louisa Lady Lambton is father in by and meets her grandson who she rejects his proposal of marriage, then goes to work for Mrs. Thornby, who turns out to be her real mother. Unfortunately, Mrs. Thornby dies, Louisa is reunited with Mrs. Morgan whose husband dies also, and they make the house he left her into the enterprise of Millenium Hall.
Lady Mary Jones- sickly and left nothing by her father when he died. She meets Mr. Lenman, he is married. Gets a lot of attention from male suitors. She ends up going to live with her half brothers widow, Lady Brampton. Who inherited a lot of money. But, Lady Mary, feels uncomfortable in Lady Brampton’s circle of intellectuals-after Lady Brampton dies, she meets Miss Mancel/Morgan and they join together to form Millenium Hall.
1. Do you think that the salons were a good way for women to grow intellectually and socially?
2. Do you think religion played a part, either small or large, in the beginning of early girl’s education?
3. Do you think that these women were early feminists?
4. Do you think that these women were “typical” to the period in which they lived or where they “rebels”?
5. Do you think that it was wrong to only teach girls how to sew, and do domestic chores? Weren’t these skills needed during this period more than philosophy or mathematics?