Arguments for educating women, 1735

A primary source by John Peter Zenger

New-York Weekly Journal, May 19, 1735. (Gilder Lehrman Collection)On May 19, 1735, John Peter Zenger republished this essay in the New-York Weekly Journal. Originally printed in the Guardian, a British periodical, the two-page essay supports the education of women “of Quality or Fortune.” The author, probably Joseph Addison, one of the founders of the Guardian, argued that women should be educated because they had more spare time than men, they had a natural gift for speech, they were responsible for educating their children, and they needed to keep busy. In addition, the article suggests that educated women were seen to be more suitable as “marriage material” by socially prominent men.

More importantly, the article declares that:

Learning and Knowledge are Perfections in us, not as we are Men, but as we are reasonable Creatures, in which Order, of Beings the Female World is upon the same level with the Male. We ought to consider in this Particular, not what is the Sex, but what is the Species to which they belong.

A transcript of the excerpts is available.

Excerpts

New-York Weekly Journal, May 19, 1735. (GLC07336)]

I Have often wondered that Learning is not thought a proper Ingredient in the Education of a Woman of Quality or Fortune. Since they have the same improvable Minds as the male Part of the Species, why should they not be cultivated by the same Method? Why should Reason be left to it self in one of the Sexes, and be disciplined with so much Care in the other.

There are Reasons why Learning seems more adapted to the female World, than to the Male. As in the first Place, because they have more spare Time upon their Hands, and lead a more sedentary Life.  Their Employments are of a domestic Nature, and not like those of the other Sex, which are often inconsistent with Study and Contemplation. . . .

A Second Reason why Women should apply themselves to useful Knowledge rather than Men, is because they have that natural Gift of Speech in greater Perfection. Since they have so excellent a Talent, such a Copia Verborum, or Plenty of Words, ’tis Pity they should not put it to some Use. If the female Tongue will be in Motion, why should it not be set to go right? Could they discourse about the Spots in the Sun, it might divert them from publishing the Faults of their Neighbours. . . .

There is another Reason why those especially who are Women of Quality, should apply themselves to Letters, because their Husbands are generally Strangers to them. . . .

Learning and Knowledge are Perfections in us, not as we are Men, but as we are reasonable Creatures, in which Order, of Beings the Female World is upon the same Level with the Male. We ought to consider in this Particular, not what is the Sex, but what is the Species to which they belong. . . .

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