Feminist Sundays: Mary Astell

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Feminist Sundays is a weekly meme created at Books and Reviews. The aim is simply to have a place and a time to talk about feminism and women’s issues. This is a place of tolerance, creativity, discussion, criticism and praise. Remember to keep in mind that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, although healthy discussion is encouraged.

Since I am enjoying my Winter Break, this week I would like to devote my post to Mary Astell who played a key role in women’s education in the UK back in the 18th century.

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  • Name: Mary Astell
  • Dates and place: Born in Newcastle in 1666 died in 1731.
  • Historical period: Englightenment: the first time man was considered to have natural rights and the time when the first feminist started to fight for their right to be considered human beings as well.
  • Famous for: A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Parts I and II. Wherein a Method is offer’d for the Improvement of their Minds (1694, 1697)
  • A Serious Proposal to the Ladies, Parts I and II. Wherein a Method is offer’d for the Improvement of their Minds (1694, 1697). Astell’s proposal, previous to Wollestonecraft’s Vindication for the Right of Women (1792), makes great points on education being key to women in order to be free. She herself experienced the perils of being a single woman in Anglican England where most monasteries had been destroyed. As belonging to the gentry, she found herself in a very difficult position. However, she managed to navigate London’s social life and eventually had her work published. In A Serious Proposal she gives women the necessary tools to think logically in an atempt to improve women’s education which was very much restricted to childhood – when and if given – and to housework. Astell put this idea into practice by opening a school that remaiend open until the 19th century.
  • Download a PDF of the 1697 versions digitalized by the Boston Public Library. (Please be patient, the file is quite large).
  • Remarkable quotes by Mary Astell: These quotes show how modern and feminist Astell was and how she started a battle that will still be fought in the 1950’s and were very much present in Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique.

“If all men are born free, how is it that all women are born slaves?”

“Women are from their very infancy debarred those Advantages with the want of which they are afterwards reproached.”

But, alas! what poor Woman is ever taught that she should have a higher Design than to get her a Husband?

If God had not intended that Women shou’d use their Reason, He wou’d not have given them any, ‘for He does nothing in vain.’

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11 thoughts on “Feminist Sundays: Mary Astell

  1. naomifrisby says:

    Excellent post, Elena. I’d never heard of Mary Astell. Interesting that the quote about women being taught to want husbands is very similar to the one from Chimanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED talk that Beyoncé sampled on her latest album.

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    • Elena says:

      Heard about Beyonc’e including the quote, but haven’t listened to the song, yet.

      I’m glad you like the post, enjoying the winter break is only a relief because I have the opportunity to go to college and it got me thinking about education 🙂

      Like

    • Elena says:

      Thank you. I think she is not so well-known but as you can see, she is asking for the same things the 19th-century feminist did, only two centuries before!

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  2. Claudia says:

    Ooh, Mary Astell was discussed in the preface for the book I read for last week’s Feminist Sunday and then never got around to writing about. And it looks like it will have to wait for next week 😦

    In any case, I love how I’m discovering all these feminist people from the period I’m normally studying (16th-18th century).

    Like

    • Elena says:

      Thanks for reading, Helen 🙂 And what a happy coincidence! She’s not as celebrated as Mary Wollstonecraft although they both fought for women’s righ to education. It is a shame, because Astell had some great and very modern ideas.

      Like

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