episode #43 women’s right to

Spoken Word

Jo Belle: Doggerland read by Maxine Peake


Gipsy King: Mujer

Universal Robot Band: Disco Boogie Woman

Hint: One Woman Army

The Hollies: Long Cool Woman

Freak Power: Moonbeam Woman

Gorillaz (feat. Joan As Police Woman): Simplicity

Bobby McFerrin: Thinking About Your Body

The Cinematic Orchestra: The Awakening Of A Woman (Burnout)


What was happening in Europe? Early Modern period of Europe is characterised by the Baroque cultural movement, the latter part of the Spanish Golden Age, the Dutch Golden Age, the French development of art and literature dominated by Louis XIV, the Scientific Revolution, the world’s first public company and megacorporation known as the Dutch East India Company, and according to some historians, the General Crisis. It was during this period also that European colonisation of the Americas began. It was during this century that the English monarch became a symbolic figurehead and Parliament was the dominant force in government – a contrast to most of Europe, in particular France.

In seventeenth century the humanist idea of importance of education as a public good was recognised and widely supported. Locke, Hobbes, and the Cambridge Platonists were interested, like humanists of Renaissance, in ancient and modern philosophy alongside developments brought through scientific revolution. For example, Locke advocated a moral education of children in “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”. 

In the Early Modern Europe woman education was seen as impractical, unnecessary, dangerous and not required distraction of a wife from household duties. Many moralists thought that too much learning will make girls lascivious, or sexually promiscuous. Despite of this reasoning many of upper-class and noble girls were educated. Besides, thinkers and well-read ladies criticised a superficial learning at boarding schools in Protestant England and called for an improvement of women’s education. 

Such training in classical languages, philosophy, sciences, theology, and history was seen as a mechanism of an individual fulfilment, development of wife into a more interesting companion to a husband, and good for society. The supporters of female education “felt it necessary to stress that their demands would not lead to social or political upheaval because what they were advocating.” Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, was influenced by relationship with Thomas Hobbes, accepted philosophy of Descartes, but also stated a critique of Cartesian dualism. Further, she noted a poor education of women, an exclusion from public institutions, a political submissiveness, and a society’s thinking of women as “incompetent, irresponsible, unintelligent, and irrational.” Yet she suggested that such a perception was correct; that women had less ability than men. Nonetheless, Cavendish argued that women can learn as easily as men. 

Rarely the early modern supporters of women’s education suggested a formal education at universities, professional schools and humanist academies. Margaret Cavendish was speaking about a “Female Academy” in collection of her plays published in 1662, although Edward Chamberlayne called for the education of daughters in 1671, the proposal was intended not only as a possibility for unmarried or widowed women to gain an education for their own benefits away from a male society and appealed to establish institutions for women, in “Serious Proposal to the Ladies” in 1694 and 1697. In such institutions, women would be taught to both religious and secular education; an education would lead to improvement of “intelligent souls” and replace fallen human nature. 

Mary Astell was convinced that women’s education would improve their social role, to become a useful member of society or to be able to make wiser choice of marriage partner. Her proposal was never adopted probably for its strongly religious character and an explicitly stated proposal of an independent unmarried woman. 

Daniel Defoe specified Astell’s work as the inspiration for his “Academy of Women” in “Essay upon Projects” (1697). Defoe proposed his idea of academies wherein ladies willing to study should “have all the advantages of learning suitable to their genius.” He indicates the traditional, expected and conventional instruction of girls of the middle class. An academy for women according to Defoe should be established in ethic directive to keep men away to prevent women’s inclination to love. Moreover, each woman has to enter willing and as her choice; women will be taught music, dancing, languages as French and Italian, and read books specially history. Thus, Defoe is also stating that a “weakness of a woman” would be modified and refine through education and more a saying “weakness of the sex,” would be nonsense.

Another work “An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex” written “for a lady by a lady” argued that women are naturally equal and defended female intellectual potential. Judith Drake, the author, critiqued an ignorance of learned men and gentlemen to affairs of their home country and time. Further, she expressed a consciousness of laziness in matters of learning common to both sexes and stressed that learning and the role of female conversation could be good for a society.

Female writers insisted that women must better equip themselves, both intellectually and practically, to compete with men. Women ought to first come to a realisation of their own worth and represent their needs and interests more fairly. At the same time they were criticising society for restricting women’s chances in proper education. Though, English female writers noted that if woman could afford to remain single and independent, she should. They were also aware of another imbalanced matter in women’s life marriages, especially for economic reason, thus gave advices how to cleverly choose a husband. Nevertheless, an important amount of educated women had struggled in marriage. What is more, an unmarried woman had been ridiculed by men for her lack of husband and her affection of learning. Indeed a woman’s destiny was to be a mother, raise children and instruct them in religious and moral values. 

Girls were taught to read. However, advanced education was considered as unimportant. In spite of the fact that also English male thinkers as George Hickes in 1684 and John Bellers in 1696 suggested a founding of college for a young women, the vast majority of women had never achieved even a basic literacy in the early modern period. Trade skills and education came “through oral tradition and training in a workshop, not through books.” The quantity of women’s education increased in seventeenth century, but the quality did not. Further, women were not allowed to access higher education until in the middle of the nineteenth century. 


Mary Astell. Some Reflections Upon Marriage, Occasioned by the Duke and Dutchess of Mazarine’s Case; Which is Also Considered, John Nutt, Stationers-Hall, London, 1700.

Edward Chamberlayne, An Academy or College: Wherein Young Ladies and Gentlewomen May . . . Be Duly Instructed the True Protestant Religion, London, 1671.

Jan Amos Comenius. Chapte IX All the young of both sexes should be sent to school, The Great Didactic (Didactica Magna), Russell & Russell, New York, 1967.

Daniel Defoe. “Academy for women “, An Essay Upon Projects, The Project Gutenberg Etext, May 2003.

Judith Drake. “Section 3, 4 and 5” An Essay in Defence of the Female Sex, A. Roper at the Black Boy, and R. Clavel at the Peacock, both in Fleetʃ treet, 1697.

Marilyn French, Margaret Atwood. From eve to dawn: a history of women in the world. The masculine mystique, The Feminist Press at the University of New York, 2008.

Bathsua Makin. An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of Gentlewomen, London, Cheapside, 1673.

Hilda L. Smith. Reason’s Disciples: Seventeenth-Century English Feminists, University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, London, 1982.

Merry E. Weisner. Women and Gender in Early Modern Europe, Cambridge University Press, 2nd edition, 2000.

A Refuge from a man: The idea of a protestant nunnery, Past Oxford Journals.


Alice Sowaal. Mary Astell, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 2008. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/astell/

Community midnight radio show Through the Bohemian Looking Glass every night at midnight. A new episode is aired every Friday midnight on Wirral Wave radio or AirTime. Later on SoundCloud for some time.

Suggestions, opinions and comments welcomed at veronika(at)wirralwave(dot)co(dot)uk.