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(London: Routledge, 1985) and Elaine Hobby, “‘Discourse so

unsavoury’: Women’s published writings of the 1 650’s,” Women,

Writing, History, 1640 - 1740, ed. Isobel Grundy and Susan
Wiseman (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992). For a
discussion of the impact of the Protestant Revolution on women’s
participation in public life, see Christopher Hill, The English Bible
Seventeenth-Century Women’s Educational Theorists and and the Seventeenth Century Revolution (London: Penguin Press,
the Problem of Publicity 1993), Christopher Hill, The Century of Revolution: 1603 - 1714
(New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 1961), Christopher Hill, Change
and Continuity in Seventeenth Century England (Cambridge:
Amanda Hiner Harvard University Press, 1975), Elaine Hobby, “Prophets and
Winthrop University Prophecies,” Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writing, 1646 -
1688 (London: Virago Press, 1988), Diane Purkiss, “Producing
the Voice, Consuming the Body: Women Prophets of the
Margaret Cavendish, in her 1655 treatise Philosophical Seventeenth Century,” Women, Writing, History, ed. Isobel
Grundy and Susan Wiseman (Athens: University of Georgia
and Physical Opinions, delineates the closely-woven early
Press, 1992), and Valerie R. Lucas, “Puritan Preaching and the
modern associations between literacy, education, rational Politics of the Family,” The Renaissance Englishwoman in Print, ed.
discourse, publication, and gender, stating of women, “We Anne M. Haselkorn and Betty S. Travitsky (Amherst: University
are become like worms that only live in the dull earth of of Mass. Press, 1990). For a discussion of the polemic role of print
ignorance, winding ourselves sometimes out by the culture and literature in the seventeenth century, see Steven N.
refreshing rains of good educations, which seldom is given Zwicker, Lines of Authority: Politics and English Literary Culture,
to us… We are … shut out of all power and authority… 1649 - 1689 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993). For a
never employed either in civil or martial affairs, [and] our discussion of the effects of the English Revolution, the
counsels are despised …”1 Cavendish here equates early Interregnum, and the Restoration on women’s participation in
modern women’s limited educational opportunities with public defense and public discourse, see Hilda L. Smith,
“‘Daughters are but Branches’: English Feminists, 1650 - 80,”
their seclusion in domestic and private spheres and with
Reason’s Disciples: Seventeenth-Century English Feminists (Urbana:
their exclusion from positions of authority and power.2 54 Women’s EducationUniversity of Illinois Press, 1982), Marilyn
L. Williamson, “Women Petitioners and Parliaments of Women,”
Margaret Cavendish, “To the Two Universities,” The Raising their Voices: British Women Writers, 1650 - 1750 (Detroit:
Philosophical and Physical Opinions (1655), (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Wayne State University Press, 1990), and Anne Laurence,
University Microfilms International, 1984). “Women and Men’s Worlds,” Women in England, 1500 - 1760, A
On the effects of the emergence of print capitalism on women’s Social History (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1994). For a
participation in print culture, see Lucien Febvre, The Coming of the discussion of the increasing cultural hostility toward women’s
Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450 - 1800 (London: NLB Press, education and intellectual achievement in the seventeenth
1976), Patricia Crawford, “Women’s Published Writings 1600 -
1700,” Women in English Society, 1500 - 1800, ed. Mary Prior
42 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 43

Thirty-one years later, Mary Astell addressed these educational theorists, Bathsua Makin and Mary Astell.4
very disadvantages in her polemical treatise A Serious Both Makin and Astell argue vigorously for a
Proposal to the Ladies, speculating: “competent number of Schools [to be] erected to Educate
I do not know how the Men will resent it to have Ladies ingenuously,”5 and both present detailed programs
their enclosure broke down, and Women invited to of female education which reject traditional early modern
taste of that Tree of knowledge they have so long notions of female education in favor of a rigorous
unjustly Monopoliz’d. But they must excuse me, if I curriculum which emphasized literacy, rational discourse,
be as partial to my own Sex as they are to theirs, and and familiarity with ancient and modern classical,
I think Women as capable of learning as Men are, historical, philosophical, and religious texts.
and that it becomes them as well.3 These writers justified their programs for universal
Astell fully understands that her proposal for female education with arguments that were both pragmatic and
education will be understood as a breaking down of political, suggesting that the “refreshing rains of good
“enclosures,” a transgression of gendered boundaries and
an intrusion into public discourse through the venue of 4
See Elaine Hobby, Virtue of Necessity: English Women’s Writings,
print publication. Cavendish and Astell, like many 1649 - 1688 (London: Virago, 1988) for a discussion of
seventeenth-century female educational theorists, place a seventeenth-century education for women. See Kenneth
specific type of female education – one which privileges Charlton, Education in Renaissance England (London: Routledge
literacy and rational discourse – at the center of their and Kegan Paul, 1965) and David Cressy, ed., Education in Tudor
arguments for women’s inclusion in public spheres. During and Stuart England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975) for a
the seventeenth century, a supportive community of female discussion of educational methods and theory during the
educational theorists and writers proffered a fascinating Renaissance and Stuart periods. For information on the increased
male enrollment in universities during the Stuart period is taken
array of texts which defended not only women’s right to be from Hilda Smith’s text Reason’s Disciples: Seventeenth-Century
educated, but their very right to engage in public debate English Feminists (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1982). See
over the question of education for young women and girls; also Christopher Hill, Change and Continuity in Seventeenth-
this paper will examine the treatises of two of these Century England (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975).
Hill states, “in the thirty years since Elizabeth’s accession, 3,400
scholars had graduated from one of the two universities . . . The
century, see “Miscellaneous Books on Women,” and “Satiric universities increased their output of graduates in the late
Representations of the Learned Lady in Comedy” in Myra sixteenth and seventeenth centuries . . .” 13.
Reynolds’ The Learned Lady in England, 1650 - 1760 (Gloucester, Bathsua Makin, An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of
Mass.: Peter Smith, 1964). Gentlewomen (1673), ed. Paula L. Barbour. (Los Angeles: The
Mary Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of Augustan Reprint Society, 1980) 4.
their True and Greatest Interest, Fourth Edition (New York: Source
Book Press, 1970) 20.
44 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 45

education” would render a woman both immune to leading opportunities for women may be understood as
an “ungodly and wicked life” and “able to understand and symptomatic of this growing cultural association between
manage [her] own Affairs.” Though both women proffered formal education and public (masculine) employment.6
syllogistic arguments, catalogs of female worthies, and Hilda Smith notes that when the education of girls is
exhaustive curricular recommendations, both women were addressed in early modern texts, it is “seen as
conscious of their uncomfortable roles as public participants particularistic, having relevance for that sex only”7;
in a debate which was implicitly gendered masculine; in Margaret Ferguson further explains that “the enormous
response to this discomfiting position, both Makin and interest in writing, on the part of male humanist
Astell were able to construct a curious but effective rhetoric intellectuals, frequently went hand in hand with
which allowed them to cross or transcend conventional conceptualizations of writing as a fundamentally masculine
gendered walls of public debate by constructing an domain.”8 In the early modern period, discussions of
alternative “enclosure” from which to speak. Their written women’s education were interpreted and understood
texts attest not only to a wide variety of rhetorical gestures within the context of an explicit, powerful correlation
designed to mitigate the apprehension of both male and between public speech, public service, and the masculine-
female readers, but they also attest to a persistent and gendered student.
intriguing tension between exposure John Milton, who spent the first thirty years of his
life engaged in elaborate educational training, including
and enclosure, between self-inclusion in public discourse private tutors, public schooling at St. Paul’s, seven years at
and retreat into a safe and privatized seclusion. This Cambridge, and fifteen months of travel abroad, wrote in
paradoxical tension between exposure and retreat, I will his 1644 treatise Of Education that male children ought to
argue, was necessary in order to construct an alternative have “a complete and generous education which fits a man
locus of debate which actually functioned as public, but was
ostensibly privatized and feminized.
Because the educational theories of John Locke, John 6
For a discussion of the largely skeptical, and sometimes hostile,
Milton, Christopher Wase, Obediah Walker, and Charles seventeenth-century response to women’s education, see
Hoole – to name only a few educational theorists of the “Chapter Four: Miscellaneous Books on Women in Social and
seventeenth century – were predicated upon the Intellectual Life” and “Chapter Five, Satiric Representations of
assumption that the (male) child would eventually engage the Learned Lady in Comedy” in Myra Reynold’s The Learned
himself in public discourse or public service, the very Lady in England: 1650 - 1760 (Gloucester, Mass: Peter Smith,
assumption of eventual publicity on the part of the student 1964).
effectively excluded females from formal education. The Hilda Smith, “‘All Men and Both Sexes . . .” 75.
early modern disparity between the expanding educational Margaret Ferguson, “Renaissance Concepts of the ‘Woman
Writer’”, in Women and Literature in Britain 1500 – 1700, ed. Helen
opportunities for men and the static, limited educational
Wilcox (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996) 152.
46 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 47

to perform justly, skillfully and magnanimously all the effective exclusion of women and girls from consideration
offices both private and public of peace and war.”9 He in educational theory and educational practice had the
further argued that the effect of his proposed educational effect of reinforcing the prevalent seventeenth-century view
system would be manifold: that education could be linked specifically with public
Or whether they be to speak in parliament or employment, and could thus be justified as exclusively
council, honour and attention would be male.
waiting on their lips. There would then also Within this repressive intellectual environment,
appear in pulpits other visages, other gestures, Bathsua Makin attempted to make her living as a tutoress,
and stuff otherwise wrought than what we educator, published author of verse and prose, and political
now sit under, oft-times as great a trial to our and educational theorist. Makin, “governess to the Princess
patience as any other that they preach to us.10 Elizabeth, eldest daughter of Charles I,” has been a
Milton desired to frame young men into able “writers and somewhat neglected and misunderstood member of
composers” and eloquent speakers in public places such as seventeenth-century intellectual circles, overshadowed by
parliaments, councils, and pulpits – places easily the auspicious Mary Astell. Privately hired by Charles I as
identifiable as masculine-gendered – and his educational a tutor to his daughter; she was a correspondent with Anna
treatise was intended to challenge advocates of universal Maria van Schurman, and a member of an elite intellectual
education, such as John Amos Comenius and his circle which included John Pell, Samuel Hartlib, and Lucy,
followers.11 This Countess of Huntingdon.12 She knew Elizabeth Hastings,
and was, eventually, Governess of a “‘School
John Milton, Areopagitica and Of Education, ed. K. M. Lea
(London: Oxford University Press, 1973) 50. highest positions, since they have often been called by God
Milton, 55. Himself to rule over nations, to give sound advice to kings and
See John Amos Comenius, The Great Didactic (London: Adam princes, to the study of medicine and of other things which
and Charles Black, 1869). Comenius presented a definition of benefit the human race, even to the office of prophesying and of
what I have here termed universal education in his treatise The inveighing against priests and bishops” 220.
Great Didactic. He writes, “not the children of the rich or of the We are told by J. R. Brink, in an article that corrects some
powerful only, but of all alike, boys and girls, both noble and misinformation printed in an earlier text by Brink, that Makin
ignoble, rich and poor, in all cities and towns, villages and was the daughter of Henry Reginald, the schoolmaster of a school
hamlets, should be sent to school” 219. He further states, “Nor in St. Mary Axe parish. Reginald was later involved in running a
can any reason be given why the weaker sex . . . should be school in Chichester founded by Samuel Hartlib with John Pell. J.
altogether excluded from the pursuit of knowledge (whether in R. Brink, “Bathsua Reginald Makin: ‘Most Learned Matron’,” The
Latin or in their mother-tongue). . . . They are endowed with Huntington Library Quarterly: Studies in English and American
equal sharpness of mind and capacity of knowledge (often with History and Literature. Vol. 54, no. 4 (Fall 1991): 313 - 326. The
more than the opposite sex), and they are able to attain the close association between Makin’s father, John Pell and Samuel
Hiner 49
Hartlib has led scholars to conclude that she had access to the
educational theory of Hartlib and Dury. The author of the essay for Gentlewomen at Tottenham-high-Cross, within four
frequently mentions Comenius, who was influential to Hartlib miles of London, in the road to Ware’.”13 Makin’s
and Dury, and Anna Maria van Schurman, who corresponded impressive education and fluency in at least five languages
with Makin several times, at least. John Dury’s The Reformed not only set her apart as a “prodigy,” but blurred and
School, published in 1650, states that “the motion . . . is made of obfuscated the gender of her persona
entering into a Societie, wherein a certain number of Children, in her published writings; as Francis Teague notes, “a
Boys and Girles, should be educated unto Religion.” John Dury, woman who received an education that allowed her to be
The Reformed School (1650), ed. Charles Webster (Cambridge: multilingual or to use the pen was one whose gender was
Cambridge University Press, 1970) 144. Dury offered the unique already complicated by intellectual accomplishments that
proposition of a boarding school for both boys and girls, in which
“The Girles should all be lodged in the same house with the were gendered male.14 Not surprisingly, Makin devoted
associated women; to be under the perpetuall inspection of the her efforts, in addition to bearing and raising seven
Governess” 147. In Dury’s proposal, girls will be trained in children, to battling the strong cultural associations between
domestic skills and boys in “Tongues, Sciences and education, publicity, and masculinity. Her pedagogical
Employments” 149. Samuel Hartlib’s 1653 text Some Proposalls treatise An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of
Towards the Advancement of Learning concerns education “such as Gentlewomen is an important contribution to the body of
inable men to discharge some Publick Trust, either of serving or early modern defenses of women’s education; however, it is
of Ruling for the good of all and the publick Trusts which also significant as an example of an attempt to proffer
comprehend all serving or Ruling abilities.” Samuel Hartlib, necessary rhetorical alternatives to the conventional,
Some Proposalls Towards the Advancement of Learning (1653), ed. gendered, public/private dichotomy.
Charles Webster (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970)
Makin’s Essay was published in 1673, the same year
180. Like Milton and Locke, Hartlib associates public education
with public employment and with the masculine gender. that a new edition of Milton’s tractate Of Education was
However, Hartlib does briefly take up the issue of educating disseminated in London bookstalls.15 Dedicated to “all
girls, stating, “As for the female sexe, we humbly propose that Ingenious and Virtuous Ladies, more especially to her
the Schooles wherein Gentlewomen are bred up my be lookt into
and reformed by the Counsell of some grave and vertuous
Matrons who understand what in Christianity is most usefull and
decent for their sexe to be trained up in . . . for the true end of Brink, 321.
their life in a Teague, Francis, “A Voice for Hermaphroditical Education,”
Christian Commonwealth, to become modest, discreet, and ‘This Double Voice,’ ed. Danielle Clarke and Elizabeth Clarke
industrious house-keepers” 190. One notes how unique was (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000) 250.
Makin’s educational theory regarding the training of girls when J. L. Helm, “Bathsua Makin’s An Essay to Revive the Antient
one studies these texts, which were the only other educational Education of Gentlewomen in the Canon of Seventeenth-Century
treatises to take up the issue, and which did so marginally, Educational Reform Tracts,” Cahiers Elisabethans. No. 44 (October
haphazardly, and sparingly. 1993) 45.
50 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 51

Highness the Lady Mary, eldest daughter to his Royal capable of improvement by education, as they
Highness the Duke of York,” her treatise is constructed as a are.17
classic dialogic debate. Makin, writing anonymously and After stating that he desires a “competent number of
adopting the male personas of both a sympathizer and a schools erected to educate ladies ingeniously,” the male
adversary, includes two letters as prefatory material to the sympathizer asserts:
essay: one letter, from the sympathizer, defends women’s I expect to meet with many scoffs and taunts
right to education and critiques customary habits of from inconsiderate and illiterate men, that
excluding women from classical learning; the other letter, prize their own lusts and pleasure more than
from a constructed male adversary, presents conventional your profit and content. I shall be the less
arguments dismissing the intellectual and moral concerned at these, so long as I am in your
competence of women. The adversarius’s letter is then favor; and this discourse may be a weapon in
addressed and refuted in over forty pages of polemic your hands.18
argument in the classic disputatio form of proof and Her sympathizer mitigates the fears of a possible skeptical
refutation.16 Her male sympathizer opens the essay with male audience, stating “I am a Man myself, that would not
the following strongly-stated claim: suggest a thing Prejudicial to our Sex.”19 Makin’s
The barbarous custom to breed women low is adversary, after mentioning that women are “of low parts,
grown general amongst us and hath prevailed soft fickle natures,” conclusively states: “The end of
so far that it is verily believed (especially Learning is to fit one for public Employment, which
amongst a sort of debauched sots) that women Women are not capable of. Women must not speak in the
are not endued with such reason as men, nor Church, its against custom.” Here Makin, speaking
through the voice of a constructed male persona, directly
references the early modern cultural association between
education, masculinity, and publicity. Her sympathizer,
also a constructed male voice, must persuasively weaken
this association through rational arguments, extensive
I am indebted here to J. L. Helm’s essay “Bathsua Makin’s An historical and biblical allusions, traditional appeals of ethos
Essay . . . in the Canon of Seventeenth-Century Educational and pathos, and mitigating domestic and religious contexts.
Reform Tracts” for the identification of Makin’s argument as
disputatio in structure. See Edward P. J. Corbett, Classical Rhetoric 17
for the Modern Student, Third Edition (New York: Oxford Bathsua Makin, An Essay to Revive the Antient Education of
University Press, 1990), for a description of dispositio, or Gentlewomen (1673), ed. Paula L. Barbour. (Los Angeles: The
arrangement of arguments, and inventio, or the discovery of Augustan Reprint Society, 1980) 1.
arguments, including the logical and ethical appeals and proof Makin, 3.
and refutation form of argument. Makin, 5.
52 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 53

Ultimately, though Makin attempts to locate her In Makin’s Essay, we see evidence of a clear and
pedagogical program for female education safely within the forceful defense of women’s intellectual achievement, yet
gendered contexts of the domestic and private spheres, her we find this voice mitigated by cultural conventions which
sympathizer concedes, “I cannot tell ... from what part of necessitate marginalization and an intermediary (male)
Learning to exclude [Women], in regard to their Capacities. rrepresentative. In her text, her male sympathizer functions
The whole Encyclopedia of Learning may be useful some as her intermediary, shielding her from charges of
way or other to them.” Makin states that women need to immodesty and prejudice, and lessening the threat of her
gain “knowledge in Arts and Sciences,” as well as “the displays of learning and argumentation. In her closing
knowledge of Tongues,” the economic skills associated with advertisement, she appoints a M. Lewis or other male
merchandising, “Husbandry, Arithmetic . . . knowledge in individuals as her public representatives–men who will
Politicks and Oeconomicks . . . Grammar, Rhetorick and defend her educational proposals in the public context of
Logick.”20 Makin is concerned with the serious the coffee-house. As with all ideas presented in women’s
presentation of an extensive program of education for girls published texts, Makin’s theories and proposals will be
to a largely skeptical audience. She persuades her readers present in public places such as coffee-houses and
that she can teach girls as much as boys learn in grammar bookstalls, but Makin herself, a female educator and
schools, in addition to the domestic and aesthetic skills published writer, must remain secluded, cloistered, and
expected of young gentlewomen, and that she can marginalized.
accomplish this serious study in half the time it usually Twenty-one years after the publication of Makin’s
takes boys to master only Latin, English, and a smattering Essay, at the age of twenty-six, Mary Astell wrote her first
of Greek. essay on women, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies. Astell,
Makin, here, does not invoke the cause of “publick who lived from 1666 to 1731, exemplified in her life and her
employments of peace” or the “publick concern[s] of the work the seventeenth-century ambiguities concerning
Commonwealth of learning,” as delineated in Hartlib’s The women, publicity, and education.22 An autodidact, she
Advancement of Learning (1653), but she does suggest that
educated women might be able to support themselves in 22
For an excellent and thoroughly-researched biography of
times of financial difficulty, and that education may enable Astell, see Ruth Perry’s The Celebrated Mary Astell (Chicago: The
“some of this abused Sex to set a right value upon University of Chicago Press, 1986). See also Hilda Smith,
themselves, according to the dignity of their Creation . . . Reason’s Disciples: Seventeenth-Century English Feminists (Urbana:
nothing inferior to those of Men, and equally precious to University of Illinois Press, 1982), and Florence Smith, Mary
God in Christ, in whom there is neither Male nor Female.”21 Astell (New York: AMS Press, 1966). Ruth Perry’s article “The
Veil of Chastity: Mary Astell’s Feminism,” Sexuality in Eighteenth-
Century Britain, ed. Paul-Gabriel Bouce (Totowa, N.J.:
Makin, 30. Manchester University Press, 1982), Catherine Sharrock’s article
Hartlib, 190 - 191; Makin, 39. “De-ciphering women and de-scribing authority: The Writings of
54 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 55

received only a rudimentary education at home; as an adult, the more Modern Heroins, and blush to think how much is
she lived alone on the outskirts of London, where she “read now, and will hereafter be said of them, when you your
widely, and wrote poems, letters, essays, and polemical selves (as great a Figure you make) must be buried in
high church pamphlets and Tory tracts. In the fifteen years silence and forgetfulness!”24 Astell forwards more explicitly
from the ages of twenty-eight to forty-three, . . . [she] wrote the argument implied by Makin: women are not naturally
six books and two rather long pamphlets.”23 She both deficient in intellectual aptitude, but are poorly educated
corresponded with and critiqued the works and ideas of and are taught to value the wrong things. Astell asserts:
notable scholars such as John Norris, Dr. D’Avenant, Bishop Neither God nor Nature have excluded them
Tillotson, Rene Descartes, and John Locke. Astell enjoyed from being Ornaments to their Families and
more widespread acclaim for her defenses of women’s useful in
education than did Makin, but it is important to note that their Generation; there is therefore no reason
her defenses of women are deeply contextualized within they should be content to be Cyphers in the
conventional religious devotion and conservative Tory World, useless at the best, and in a little time a
politics. burden and nuisance to all about them.25
These contexts, perhaps, enabled her some amount of Astell offers a scathing critique of a society which offers
impunity when corresponding with other intellectuals, but women only “Ignorance and a narrow Education . . . Sin
in her Serious Proposal, Astell struggled to negotiate the and Folly. . . Tyrant Custom. . . [and] the hurry and noise of
complex gendered spheres of publicity and privacy. Astell the World,” and proposes as a solution to her society’s
writes without an intermediary persona, and she addresses neglect of women’s education a literal retreat to a
a literate community of women who are in need of constructed utopia which will be safe, secluded, and which
encouragement and defense, who have great intellectual will offer, not educational parity, but educational and moral
aptitude, but who are a little too inclined to be frivolous in superiority -- a “flight to heav’n” to attain an “eminent pitch
their investment of time and energy. Like Makin, Astell of Vertue.”26 Astell’s proposal
evokes lists of female worthies, though she does this in a is to erect a Monastery, or if you will . . . , we
more oblique manner, stating, “Remember, I pray you, the will call it a Religious Retirement, and such as
famous Women of former Ages, the Orinda’s of late, and shall have a double aspect, being not only a
Retreat from the World . . . but likewise, an
Mary Astell,” Women, Writing, History, ed. Isobel Grundy and
Susan Wiseman (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1992), and Astell, A Serious Proposal to the Ladies for the Advancement of their
Ruth Perry’s article “Mary Astell’s Response to the True and Greatest Interest, Fourth Edition (New York: Source Book
Enlightenment,” Women and the Enlightenment, in Women & Press, 1970) 3.
History, No. 9 (Spring 1984) are helpful texts on the subject. Astell, 6.
23 26
Perry, “Mary Astell’s Response . . .,” 14. Astell, 14, 15.
56 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 57

Institution and previous discipline, to fit us to

do the greatest good in it. . . 27 Lawful Privileges, our only Contention shall
be that they may not out-do us in promoting
Astell’s monastic retreat into seclusion – her desire for a His Glory . . . They may busy their Heads with
religious retirement from the world – entails, at once, a Affairs of State, and spend
complete rejection of and an attempt to alter and amend her their Time and Strength in recommending
own historical and political context. Though rigorous themselves to an uncertain Master, or a more
formal education for girls must take place within a giddy Multitude, our only endeavor shall be
privatized and secluded sphere, it is interesting to note that to be absolute Monarchs in our own Bosoms.29
Astell indicates that the goal of women’s education is to Interestingly, Astell identifies public employment and civil
prepare them for involvement in the World, rather government as the “Prerogatives” and “Lawful Privileges”
than seclusion from it. of men, and attempts to reject that which is already
Though the end of education, for Astell, is moral prohibited to her. Her explicit rejection of publicity and her
excellence and religious devotion, she assures her readers, espousal of a secluded monastic retreat is meant to shield
in “The Conclusion,” that “our Institution is rather her from charges of immodesty in asserting that women can
[Academic] than Monastic.” Astell proposes a system of and should be formally and classically educated, just as
Natural Philosophy which will “Not leave any part of our Makin’s use of male personas is meant to shield her from
Subject unexamin’d,” and will privilege judgment, these same charges of presumption and immodesty. It
invention, proofs, and logic. She bases her proposal on the appears that the association between formal education,
dualistic philosophy of Descartes, which significantly and publicity, and masculinity was so conventional by the end
conveniently separates rational minds from gendered of the seventeenth century that Astell felt she had little
bodies, and argues that only through direct examination of choice but to offer an entirely new alternative to women
the natural world can women exercise their capacity to scholars – a utopian environment that would function as a
reason, safe locus for them, a enclosed space where they would be
and only through the exercise of their reason can they make protected from “those who think . . we were made for
informed and enlightened moral and religious decisions.28 nothing else but to Admire and do them Service, and to
As the end of learning will be “Knowing and Enjoying the make provision for the low concerns of Animal Life.”30
Sovereign and Only God,” she can assure her readers: Though women may have been gaining increased
The Men therefore may still enjoy their Prerogatives, access to the mechanisms of print culture in the seventeenth
for us, we mean not to intrench on any of their and early eighteenth centuries, the means by which women

27 29
Astell, 14. Astell, 159.
28 30
Astell, 103, 106. Astell, 158.
58 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 59

could participate in print culture – literacy, learning, and women scholars had in responding to gendered parameters
education – remained persistently gendered masculine. of discourse and behavior, yet their published and
Women educators and scholars attempted to address and persuasive texts themselves attest to their own achievement
challenge the association between publicity, education, and of publicity and to their own tenacity as scholars and as
masculinity by forwarding texts which critiqued such intellectuals.
associations as unnatural, unreasonable, and as politically-
motivated. They felt compelled, however, to lessen the
transgressive nature of such texts by forwarding a rhetoric
which was heavily influenced by mitigating gestures. At
times, they acceded to conventionally masculine forms of
argument and debate or male personas, attempting to gain
respect for their ideas. At other times, they presented their
critiques in the rhetoric of privacy and seclusion, attempting
not to challenge the association between publicity and
learning, but simply to circumvent it. These early-modern
defenses of women’s education, ultimately, offer us a
glimpse into the ambiguous and tenuous demarcation
between public and private in the seventeenth and
eighteenth centuries, and emphasize how essentially
problematic these concepts were. Mary Astell comments,
“We’re exposed to the Contempt and Outrage of the World,
but that makes us less in love with it, and more ready to
welcome Death.”31 The retreat of Astell and the disguise of
Makin attest to the difficulty early modern

Astell, 154.
60 Women’s Educational Theorists Hiner 61

Crawford, Patricia. “Women’s Published Writings 1600 -

1700.” In Women in English Society, 1500 - 1800, ed.
Mary Prior. London: Routledge, 1985.

Works Cited Cressy, David, ed. Education in Tudor and Stuart England.
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