04 Apr

Margaret A. Nash, Women’s Education in the United States, 1780-1840 (2005)

 Women’s Education in the United States, 1780-1840 examines “how women’s opportunities for higher education progressed from the scattered and short-lived academies of the late-eighteenth century to the permanent and highly academic seminaries of the antebellum era” (4). Margaret Nash argues that these early academies institutionalized women’s right to education and set “in motion a commitment to accesses to equal education for women” (116). Academics in the early American Republic catered to white, middle-class women and upheld notions of intellectual equality. Many women and men, teacher and students, valued learning for learning’s sake.


Chapters 2 and 3 examine the theories behind women’s education and the actual educational practices of women immediately after the American Revolution. Women’s education was discussed in terms of Enlightenment rationalism. Americans who supported female’s capacity to learn drew on John Locke’s theory of child development. Lock suggested that males and females possessed equal potential in education. Locke described the infant’s mind as a tabula rasa, or a blank state, that could be influenced by teachers and parents. Locke advocated the same education for males and females since both were equally capable of harnessing the powers of reason. Americans also drew on René Descartes and François Poullain de la Barre, to support their arguments that women enjoyed intellectual equality. Others looked to Jean Jacques Rousseau’s Emile, or on Education to support their arguments that men and women possessed intellectual differences based on biological capabilities.

Women’s education was also discussed in terms of civic republicanism. Nationalists, like Noah Webster and Benjamin Rush, recognized the role of women in educating moral, intelligent, and unified citizens. According to this logic, women needed to be properly educated so they could instruct the next generations of American citizens. Women held power over their husbands, other men, and children and, therefore, could shape the virtue of citizens and the nation. Women’s education was also discussed in terms of the personal rewards of education. According to Nash, these rewards included: the pure pleasures of learning; the ability of education and arts to bring one closer to the divine and a Protestant ethos; helping women cope with harsh marriages; improving household management; and supporting self-sufficiency. Discussions and practices of women’s education immediately after the American Revolution reflected “both the rhetoric of human rights and Enlightenment ideals about intellectual equality” (12).

Chapter 3 examines the academic and non-academic subjects of men’s and women’s academies of the early national period. Nash argues that because of beliefs about Enlightenment rationalism and civic republicanism, pedagogy and curricula were similar for both men and women in most academies. Chapter 4 investigates the relationship between class and female education. Nash argues that women viewed education as part of their emerging “middle-class” identity. Education was an emblem of class society. Americans also justified women’s education because it was related to evangelicals’ emphasis on education for the Christian progress of the nation. Chapter 5 argues that women pursued education because they yearned to learn. Chapter 6 examines the ways women’s education was bounded by race and class for the creation of a white middle-class.


Women’s Education in the United States elevates the study of women’s education in the early American Republic. Nash makes key theoretical moves that historians should imitate. First, Nash situates the most famous female academies and their founders (Catherine Beecher’s Hartford Theological Seminary, Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and Mary Lyon’s Mount Holyoke Female Seminary) within the larger female academy movement from the 1790s to 1840s. Nash argues that while well-known, these schools are no different in terms of curriculum and pedagogy than other female academies. This allows historians to understand that thousands of girls and women pursued education during this time as part of their middle-class identity. It also helps historians to see how male and female educators supported women’s education. Looking at an array of academies also allows scholars to see Troy, Hartford, and Mount Holyoke in their own context and not simply as precursors to women’s higher education in post-bellum America. These three schools were all founded by 1840. Thus, rather than a beginning, these schools mark a pinnacle in women’s education. Situating these schools in their own context also helps historians realize that these schools were not inferior to later women’s colleges or men’s schools of the same period. These three schools were a part of the flourishing of women’s higher education in the early Republic, not just the forerunners of higher education.

Nash also challenges historians to look beyond the ideology of separate spheres as they examine female education in the early American republic. Historians often deem these early academies as inferior because they examine these schools through the lens of the ideology of separate spheres. This ideology assumes that there was a strong distinction between male and female education. This has led scholars to assume that either women were intellectually inferior to men, women’s schools were intellectually inferior to men’s schools, or that the larger public did not support women’s education. Nash reminds scholars that the reality of the ideology of separate spheres has been challenged. Advice literature argued for this division, but many women did not adhere to it. Moreover, the ideology of separate spheres has been challenged because of its reliance on the clear distinctions between public and private. Scholars have shown that these lines were fuzzy at best. The lines between public and private were permeable and constantly negotiated.

Nash argues that the ideology of separate spheres has harmed studies of women’s education. It assumes that women were being trained for passive, familial roles. Thus, historians examine schools for their ability to transcend or confer domestic ideology to female students. The ideology of separate spheres has also dismissed the public and private nature of academies.

Nash concludes that historians should move beyond study the ideology of separate spheres when they study women’s education in the early American Republic. This moving beyond recognizes that the phrase “woman’s sphere” was used throughout the nineteenth century. But, it also recognizes that the phrase was not clearly defined in society or individual’s minds. Thus, “using ‘separate spheres’ ideology limits our understanding to explain women’s education in this period because it necessarily limits outs understand both of education and of the construction of gender” (12).

Despite Nash’s insistence and willingness to move beyond the ideology of separate spheres, she does not always do so. This is particularly clear in her reading of Catherine Beecher. Nash makes it clear that historians have misread the ideology of separate spheres. Actual nineteenth-century women did not relegate their activities to the private, or domestic sphere. Nevertheless, Nash argues that Beecher espoused the ideology. By this phrase, Beecher meant that “women should concern themselves with the ‘private sphere’ of home and children, while men should involve themselves in the ‘public sphere’ of paid employment outside the home and in the realms of politics and government” (2-3). Did Beecher actually say this? No. Scholars have traced this reading of the ideology to Engels and Marx’s critique of capitalism which imbibed their own readings of separate spheres into capitalism. Moreover, Beecher did not say this because she did not use the phrase “separate spheres.” If historians want to transcend separate sphere ideology they must stop attributing the phrase and its connotations to nineteenth-century women. Beecher, like other women did use the phrase “women’s sphere.” As Nash notes in her conclusion, Beecher used this phrase to talk about the domestic and social roles of women. These social roles included the professionalization of teaching and missionizing which were not private or domestic. Nevertheless, Nash concludes that for Beecher the woman’s sphere was the home and classroom. Beecher though that “women should leave the realm of politics to men.” By politics Nash seems to mean the public sphere. Nash, like other historians, re-inscribe Beecher in the realm of separate spheres. Beecher cannot escape because historians will not read her work without the lens of separate spheres. Historians must ask what nineteenth-century Americans meant by “woman’s sphere,” politics, and religion to really transcend “separate spheres” ideology. Despite Nash’s own ability to move beyond the spheres in her reading of Beecher, her work is an important contribution to studies of women’s education and religion in the early American Republic.

29 Mar

Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1792)

Wollstonecraft wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women in response to Charles Maurice de Talleyrand-Périgord’s 1791 report to the French National Assembly. The report suggested that girls should only be educated with boys until the age of eight. Thereafter, girls should only receive a domestic education. Wollstonecraft attacked this suggestion and the larger inequalities in women’s rights, including their education and social positions. Wollstonecraft argued that women had the right to be educated as men were educated.  She called for women’s intellectual equality.

Wollstonecraft condemned Rousseau’s Emile as well as other educational books that saw men as intellectually superior to women. She suggested that men who defined women as weak and vain did not see that these “characteristics” were based on the failure of women’s education that had been outlined by men. Like other pedagogues, Wollstonecraft outlined methods for educating children. Wollstonecraft recognized that children’s characters were formed by the age of seven. Mothers needed to be educated properly so they could mold their children’s natures. Wollstonecraft did not advocate for complete independence for women. She did suggest that with intellectual equality, women would gain more political and economic equality.

Wollstonecraft developed a plan for national education. She argued against private education as this was for the elite alone and did not allow children to be around one another. She also argued against boarding schools as these had too many holiday interruptions. Day schools were the best option because they allowed children to go to school together and for longer periods. Wollstonecraft also advocated for state supported schools because she didn’t think education should be left to parents alone. She also emphasized the importance of letting children play, like Rousseau.

These ideas were revolutionary because Wollstonecraft argued that girls should be educated equally, alongside boys, not relative to them. She noted that “If marriage be the cement of society, mankind should all be educated after the same model, or the intercourse of the sexes will never deserve the name of fellowship, nor will women ever fulfill the peculiar duties of their sex….Nay, marriage will never be held sacred till women, by being brought up with men, are prepared to be their companions rather than their mistresses” (177). At the age of nine, boys and girls dedicated to domestic employments or mechanical trades would go to other schools. All other boys and girls would remain in school together in the mornings. In the afternoons, boys and girls would be separated to learn specific trades according to their gender. Wollstonecraft suggested that educating boys and girls together would make the sexes more amenable to one another. Women should also be taught anatomy and medicine so they could attend to their children and husbands in efficient ways.

By the end of 1792, Wollstonecraft’s book had been published in Britain, Boston, Philadelphia, and France. Advocates of “Republican Motherhood” in the early America Republic used Wollstonecraft work to support the education of women. Others used Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Rousseau’s Emile to attack Wollstonecraft and women’s education in general.  

29 Mar

Linda K. Kerber, Women of the Republic (1980)

In Women of the Republic Linda K. Kerber examines how the American Revolution affected women’s roles in political and domestic life. Kerber traces these roles through the origin and adoption of the language of “Republican Motherhood.” To understand the transformation of the female political imagination, Kerber analyzes political treatises, women’s diaries and letters, published materials, legal documents, probate inventories, and court records.

Kerber argues that Anglo-Americans inherited the Enlightenment tradition from Europe, which ignored the role of women in conceptions of the new social order. Women challenged this ideology during the Revolution as they negotiated contradictory loyalties to their families and the state. Women adopted the language of Republican Motherhood, which “provided the justification of women’s political behavior; it bridged the gap between idiocy and the polis” (11-12). Women exhibited patriotism by serving as army nurses, joining voluntary associations, and signing petitions. Yet, women were not recognized as political beings in the new republic. After the Revolution, courts upheld coverture laws, limited dower rights, and restricted divorce. American women had few legal rights as citizens. The language of Republican Motherhood was also adopted to promote women’s education. Republican mothers were informed citizens, well-read in religious texts, histories, and politics. Yet, education served women’s domestic duties, especially the training of virtuous sons and husbands for the republic.

Kerber’s work is noteworthy for its consideration of the gendered notions of Enlightenment ideals, politics, and freedom during the Revolution and Early Republic. Kerber demonstrates how women participated in politics in their everyday lives by adopting the language of Republican Motherhood. Republican Motherhood was a revolutionary invention in that it allowed for the intersection of women’s domestic life and the polis. Women used Republican Motherhood “to articulate a poltical ideology that blended the domestic and public sphere” (36). Thus, Republican Motherhood represents “a stage in the process of women’s political socialization” (284). Kerber’s work is also noteworthy as it encourages scholars to recognize the limitations of Republican Motherhood. The role was liberating, but it also severely limited women. Republican Motherhood masked women’s actual positions in the polis: “women remained on the periphery of the political community” (12). The American Revolution did not provide women with the same political and legal privileges as it did white males in the early American Republic.

For a historiography of separate spheres and a critique of Kerber’s “Republican Motherhood” see: the tag “separate spheres.”

19 Mar

Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother” (1976)

In “The Republican Mother” Linda Kerber traces how Enlightenment thinkers defined women’s relationships to the state and how early Americans adopted and adapted these relationships. Kerber argues that the role of the “Republican Mother” defined American women’s relationships to the state after the American Revolution. The ideology of Republican Motherhood rested on the idea that women, particularly mothers, had a political purpose in the early American Republic. Republican Mothers’ duties involved “raising sons and disciplining husbands to be virtuous citizens of the republic.”[1]


Kerber recognizes that the relationship between women and the state remained mostly unexamined in Enlightenment works from France, England, and the colonies. The term “man” in these works literally referred to men’s political roles and relationships to the state. When philosophers referred to women, it was usually to expand on men’s relationships to the state.  Richard Filmer’s Patriarcha justified the divine right of absolute monarchy through biblical injunctions about children’s roles in families. Filmer suggested that just as the Bible commanded children to honor they father, subjects should honor their rulers. Filmer’s government was masculine, absolute, and descended through primogeniture. Locke’s Two Treatises on Government attacked Filmer. Locke noted in the First Treatise that the commandment stated “Honor they father and mother.”[2] Locke argued that men and women shared familial power and that power was limited by mutual responsibilities. Thus, government should also be shared and limited. With this, Locke integrated women into social theory. The Second Treatise came close to defining a political role for women, but stopped short. Locke outlined the rights and powers women should have in their domestic lives, including independent relationships with their children and the right to control their own property. Montesquieu argued that the best form of government for women to live under was a republic. “In a republic,” he argued, “the condition of citizens is moderate, equal, mild, and agreeable…an empire over women cannot be so well exerted.”[3] Condorcet argued that men recognized reason and moral ideas as qualifications for having a voice in a republic. Women also exhibited these qualities, and, thus, Condorcet reasoned that women should have voices as citizens in republics. Since they were not represented in republican governments, Condorcet urged women to refuse to pay taxes. In Equisse, Condorcet came close to promoting the idea that the more rational a government, the better the status of women. Condorcet’s ideas about women in the social and political world challenged Rousseau’s ideas about women. Rousseau’s Émile explained that women lived in another world “the empire of softness, of address, of complacency; her commands are caresses; her menaces are tears.”[4] Women had physical and moral relationships to men, but not political ones. Émile’s task was to show how male children should be educated and raised as good citizens for society. Émile criticized Plato’s Republic for employing men and women in the same professions for the good of the republic. Rousseau did not see women as part of a political community. Those who attempted to join the political community were unsexed and accused of becoming men. Lord Kames’ Sketches of the History of Man also accused women of becoming men if they concerned themselves with politics. Moreover, Kames did not support women’s education: “Cultivation of the female mind, is not of great importance in a republic, where men pass little of their time with women.” [5] Most male Enlightenment thinkers recognized that women had no relationship with the state. Women’s roles were defined primarily as wives and mothers.

Post-revolutionary Americans justified and popularized “a political role for women, accomplishing what the English and French Enlightenment had not.”[6] By the 1790s, writers like Judith Sargent Murray, Susannah Rowson, and Bejamin Rush emphasized the qualities of good American women. They were self-reliant, literate, and untempted by frivolous fashions. American women had responsibilities to the political sphere, although they were not to act within that sphere. American political theorists advocated the ideology of Republican Motherhood. It merged motherhood and republicanism so that women’s lives were dedicated to the service of civic virtue. Republican Mothers were to raise sons and discipline husbands “to be virtuous citizens of the republic.” Women were to fulfill their political purpose through motherhood, not direct participation in the political realm.

Expanding “Republican Motherhood”

Kerber’s definition of the ideology of Republican Motherhood has transformed the ways scholars understand women in the early American Republic. American men and women carved out spaces for women to participate in the social and political order of the Republic. Scholars have embraced the ideology of Republican motherhood to such a degree that most books on women and the American Republic include the phrase in their indices. Republican Motherhood is a commonplace in early American studies.

The ideology of Republican Motherhood, however, is not above reproach. In the definition of the Republican Motherhood, Kerber focuses solely on the political aspects of the ideology. This is logical and commendable. However in this definition, Kerber dismisses the relationship between the political and the religious in a mother’s civic virtue. The Enlightenment thinkers that Kerber examines defined the social and political realms in terms of biblical injunctions, commandments, and Reformation family values. The states that these thinkers supported were theocracies and/or governments that supported state religions (Protestantism, Puritanism, and Catholicism). Politics and religion were not mutually exclusive in these Enlightenment works. Political power was tied to religion. In fact, virtue as defined by Locke in Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) and Rousseau in Émile (1762) meant religious or moral virtue. This virtue was central to the education of male children and their participation in society and politics as good citizens. Without religion, or virtue, being a good citizen was impossible. The same can be said of Republican Motherhood: without religion being a Republican Mother was impossible.

The America Revolution transformed they ways that former British subjects thought about politics. This also meant that it transformed the ways they thought about religion’s relationship to politics. American’s increasingly separated religion from politics through disestablishment clauses. Religion moved from the realm of the state (the public) to the home (private). Many American Protestants recognized that the wedding of the two had corrupted religion. Thus, part of the American experiment involved working out the relationship between politics and religion. Kerber recognizes how Americans redefined women’s relationship to the private and public realms: “The political traditions on which American politics were built offered little assistance in defining the point at which the woman’s private domain intersected with the public one. The Republican Mother seemed to offer a solution.”[7] Neither of these domains seems to involve religion, which was a major part of the political traditions on which American politics were built.  I agree with Kerber that Republican Motherhood offered a solution in defining the intersection of the public and private domains. But, this solution meant that women were increasingly seen as the arbiters of religion in the Republic. In fact, as Barber Welter recognized, womanhood in American came to be defined by the 1820s as purity, piety, submissiveness, and domesticity. To understand the development of Republican Motherhood from the 1790s to 1830s, scholars must investigate the changing relationship between politics, religion, men, and women. Politics and religion were not mutually exclusive in the early Republic as they have been conceived since the 1970s. Women’s roles as mothers in post-revolutionary America was to cultivate civic virtue, but Americans, like their Enlightenment predecessors, recognized that virtue was tied to religion and politics.

[1] Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment-An American Perspective,” American Quarterly 28, no. 2 (July 1, 1976): 203.

[2] Ibid., 189.

[3] Ibid., 191.

[4] Ibid., 194.

[5] Ibid., 196.

[6] Ibid., 199.

[7] Ibid., 204.

18 Mar

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, or Treatise on Education (1762)

 Rousseau published Émile, or Treatise on Education in 1762. This philosophical treatise traced the nature of education through Émile, a fictional man, from infancy to adulthood. This work was radical for its insistence on familial, child-rearing, educational, and religious reform. The most damning critiques of Rousseau’s treatise emerged from the Catholic Church. Rousseau insisted, contrary to his contemporaries, that a child’s religious education should not begin until late adolescence (15 to 20). Rousseau also suggested that children should come naturally to religion with free and skeptical minds. In eighteenth-century France, most genteel, male children began their religious education at the age of six or seven by rote memorization. Émile was banned in Paris and Geneva, and publicly burned the year it was published. Nevertheless, Émile was widely read and influenced educational reform in France after the revolution. Educational reformers (Basedow, Pestalozzi, and Froebel) adopted and adapted Rousseau’s ideas in Germany and Switzerland. By the late eighteenth-century, Americans employed Émile to discuss the differences in and values of men and women’s education in the United States.

Rousseau divided Émile into five books on education, which correspond to the five stages of human development: infancy, ages 5 to 12, ages 12 to 15, ages 15 to 20, and ages 20 to 25. Rousseau suggested that there was a sixth stage of development called the “Age of Happiness.” However, the treatise ended with the fifth stage in Book Five. Book Five (ages 20 to 25) also included Rousseau’s thoughts on the nature of education for women. Below I will outline Rousseau’s arguments about education.

Book One started with some general remarks on education. Rousseau argued that “education comes to us from” three teachers, or “nature itself, or from other men, or from circumstances.”[1] The education that Rousseau outlined is meant strictly to train men for manhood and their adult vocations. Education remained a male’s domain. Nevertheless, Rousseau emphasized an equality in male education that others had not broached. Rousseau suggested that “In the natural order of things, all men being equal, the vocation common to all is the state of manhood; and whoever is well trained for that, cannot fulfill badly any vocation which depends upon it…How to live is the business I wish to teach him.”[2] Education prepared men for their obligations to humanity as fathers, to society as producers of other good men, and to the state as citizens.[3] This emphasis on nature and man’s natural abilities made room for equality in male education. These ideas were harnessed during the French Revolution to create France’s first national system of education.

Book One suggested that the education of man begins in infancy with children’s bodies. Children’s bodies should be freed from swaddling so that their movements were not restricted. Restriction made children fussy, and hindered their experience of objects, people, and nature. Moreover, children should be breast-fed by their mothers, not nurses.  Breast-feeding children would reform the family by bringing mothers and children to love one another. According to Rousseau, breast-feeding was the “first duty” of mothers.[4] The reinstitution “of this one abuse would soon result in a general reform; nature would resume all her rights. When women are once more true mothers, men will become true fathers and husbands….. If mothers are not real mothers, children are not real children toward them. Their duties to one another are reciprocal, and if these be badly fulfilled on the one side, they will be neglected on the other side.”[5] Correcting the physical relations between mothers and children would aid in the reform of familial relationships and children’s education. Finally, adults should not force children to speak too early as there is a dissonance between children and adults languages that prohibited mutual understanding.

Book Two continued the argument about education through experience in infancy. Rousseau suggested that children should be allowed to play in the open air in order to enjoy life, experience pain and suffering, and calm their dispositions. Rousseau noted that as “soon as they can feel the pleasures of existence allow them to enjoy it; and at whatever hour God may summon them see to it that they do not die before they have tasted life.”[6] The traditional, eighteenth-century education of children bothered Rousseau because it restricted children’s bodily experiences of the natural world and made them like galley slaves. It also bothered him because it trained children in polite niceties that masked arrogance and classism. Rousseau suggested that “As for me, I would rather have Émile rude than arrogant; I would much rather have him say in making a request, Do this, than in commanding, I beg you. It is not the term which he uses that I care about but rather the meaning which he connects with it.”[7] Thus, Roseau outlined ways not to educate children in arrogance.

The education of children from ages 5 to 12 should not focus on teaching children languages or history because children are not able to fully form ideas and apply them to experience (i.e., teaching geography does not teach children how to get from one place to another; experience of traveling does). Children should not be forced to read or write. Rousseau criticized Locke for his emphasis on methods for teaching children to read (dice and cabinets).[8] Rousseau suggested that adults should read to children what interested them in order to cultivate a desire for reading, writing, and learning. The cultivation of the desire to learn was the best method for educating children. Children should also exercise so that the body and mind may move together to experience the world. Rousseau concluded, “In order to learn to think, we must then exercise our limbs, our senses, and our organs…Thus, so far is it from being true that the reason of man is formed independently of the body, it is the happy constitution of the body which renders the operations of the mind facile and sure.”[9] Rousseau outlined learning in terms of phenomenology: what men knew came from their bodily and sense experiences.

Rousseau also emphasized the importance of vision and learning to see for developing a reasoned mind: “Sight is the sense which is the most intimately connected with the judgments of the mind, it requires a long time to learn to see.”[10] Rousseau argued that children should learn to measure, judge, and estimate numbers, bodies, and heights by drawing. The experience of seeing and then drawing real object forms impressed Nature on children’s imaginations. Art cultivated knowledge through embodied experiences.  Rousseau suggested that “I shall discourage him [Émile] even from tracing anything from memory…for fear that substituting odd and fantastic forms for the truth of things, he lose the knowledge of proportions and the taste for the beauties of Nature.”[11] Like Locke, Roseau also encouraged children to learn by sleeping in different types of beds and experiencing different circumstances in order to accustom their bodies to different settings. These methods for educating children enhanced the physical senses of children so that their bodies and minds developed together. The physical, sensual experience of Nature molded children properly.

Book Three argued that after infancy children should learn a trade from the ages of 12 to 15. This stage was the most important in a child’s development because it was the “interval when the power of the individual is greater than his desires.”[12] Nature marked this period as “the period of labor, of instruction, and of study.”[13] Rousseau emphasized the education of children through bodily experience in this section by giving examples of Émile’s education at fairs and with jugglers.  Rousseau also warned against teaching children about instruments through books. Instruments “invented to guide us in our experiments and to supply the place of accurate sense-perception cause us to neglect the exercise of it.”[14] Rather, children could learn about instruments and the labor behind them by being employed in workshops. “Instead of making a child stick to his books, if I employ him in a workshop his hands labor to the profit of his mind; he becomes a philosopher, but fancies he is only a workman.”[15] Physical work enhanced the mind of children through direct experience. Work also taught children the differences between work and play, and what was useful and what was not.

The one book that children should read was Robinson Crusoe because it taught self-preservation and judgment through experience without the assistant of fellows and instruments. Children should not be taught about social norms and public opinion through books and teachers as these should be experienced directly. Rousseau also discussed the ability of men to be educated. He did not distinguish “class ranks or fortunes nor shall I distinguish them scarcely more in the sequel because man is the same in all conditions…. providing for them ought everywhere to be equal.” Rather, teachers should “Adapt the education of man to man and not to that which he is not.”[16] Dismissing class and requiring children to learn a trade was scandalous to the upper-classes. But, for Rousseau learning a trade and relying on one’s own labor and experience for education meant accessing a “rank which he cannot lose, a rank which will honor him as long as he lives.” Rousseau opposed Locke’s suggested trades for men, which appeared useless. Locke argued that men be embroiderers, gilders, and varnishers. Rousseau also opposed the professions of musicians, poets, and comedians. Education through labor and physical experience would raise children to a state of manhood. Training the body and senses trained the mind and judgment.

Book Four argued that between the ages of 15 and 20 children should be instructed in religious and moral education. This stage represented the second birth of children and “it is here that man really begins to live.”[17] This education centered on children’s relations with other men, not with things as before. Religious education controlled the passions by directing the love of self, which “regards only ourselves, [and] is content when our real needs are satisfied.”[18]  Love of self is far better than self-love, which makes comparisons and is never satisfied because it requires “that others prefer ourselves to them—a thing which is impossible.”[19] This stage is also the time to educate young men in “agreeable books,” “books of the ancients,” discussion, analysis of discourse, diction, and elocution. Languages should also be studied at this time, not so much for their own use but because they teach grammar in one’s first language.

Rousseau criticized Locke in this section for beginning education with the mind and then moving to the body. According to Rousseau, this propagated materialism. Children should not think about matter as Locke suggested, but rather they should experience matter. Thinking matter only leed children to think about the material world. Experiencing matter would lead children to think beyond matter to the spiritual world. Experiencing matter would lead children to a religious education and spiritual preparation. Without first knowing how to use the body, one could not think or reason properly in order to educate the soul. Only after the body is well-trained could one absorb religion education. The lover of the self is able to commune with God in finding supreme happiness.

Book Five examined the final stage of youth, the ages between 20 and 25, when men and women marry. This book is dedicated to the education of women. Rousseau argued that Sophie (Émile’s companion) ought to be a woman as Émile is a man. In a sense, Rousseau elevated notions about women’s ability to be educated. He suggested that women required education just as men required education. That is, “she should have whatever is befitting the constitution of her species and of her sex in order to fill her place in the physical and moral world.”[20] Rousseau went as far as suggesting some equality between the sexes:  “All that we know with a certainty is that the only thing in common between man and woman is the species, and that they differ only in respect of sex.” Similarly, Rousseau declared, “With respect to what they have in common they are equal, and in so far as they are different they are not capable of being compared.” [21]  Nevertheless, the law of Nature suggests that sex impacts one’s bodily, religious, and moral education: “it follows that they ought not to have the same education…following directions of nature they ought to act in concert, but they ought not to do the same things; their duties have a common end, but the duties themselves are different, and consequently the tastes which direct them.”[22] Women are to be educated because it is their duty to be mothers and to educate their male children. “Thus the whole education of women ought to be relative to men.”[23]

Women’s bodies should not be developed for strength in infancy like men. Instead, their bodies were to be developed for “personal charms.”[24] This development still included allowing female children to play and run like male children, to free their bodies from physical constraints, and to learn the accomplishments (singing, dancing, etc.) for amusement.[25] According to Rousseau, females were inclined to play more with dolls as fit their station as mothers. Females learned better through embroidery and lacework as these appeared useful and appealed to girls’ desire to adorn themselves. Young women must be taught restraint and duty. “They must early be trained to restraint to the end that it may cost them nothing and to conquer all their whims in order to subject them to the wills of others. If they wish always to be at work they must sometimes be compelled to do nothing.”[26] Like boys, girls were educated, though to a lesser degree, through “industry and talent which form taste.” Taste in turn formed the mind, which is “opened to ideas of the beautiful in all its forms and finally to the moral notions which are connected with it.”[27] Like young boys, girls were not capable of thinking about religion at a young age. In fact, they were not really capable of thinking about religion at all. When at the appropriate age, young girls should have the “religion of her mother, and every wife that of her husband. Even were this religion false, the docility which makes the mother and the daughter submit to the order of nature expunges in the sight of God the sin of error.”[28] Rousseau blamed coquetry in Catholic convents, and convents in general, for the decline in women’s behavior and duties. In doing so, Rousseau elevated Protestantism and its familial relations: “but it seems to me that in general Protestant countries have more family affection, more worthy wives, and more tender mothers than Catholic countries; and if this is true, we cannot doubt that this difference is due in part to the education of convents [i.e., where they let girls run free].”[29]

Some late eighteenth-century American Protestants embraced Rousseau’s plan for women’s education. They recognized the necessity of women’s education for educating male children who would become the leaders of the Republic. Scholars recognize this emphasis on women’s education in early America as the ideology of Republican Motherhood.

[1] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Émile, Or Concerning Education: Extracts Containing the Principal Elements of Pedagogy Found in the First Three Books (Heath, 1886), 14.


[2] Ibid., 12.

[3] Ibid., 22.

[4] Ibid., 16.

[5] Ibid., 18.

[6] Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Rousseau’s Émile: Or, Treatise on Education (D. Appleton, 1909), 45–46.

[7] Ibid., 48.

[8] Ibid., 83.

[9] Ibid., 90.

[10] Ibid., 106.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 133.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid., 152.

[15] Ibid., 153.

[16] Ibid., 175.

[17] Ibid., 193.

[18] Ibid., 195.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid., 259.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid., 261.

[23] Ibid., 263.

[24] Ibid., 264.

[25] Ibid., 271.

[26] Ibid., 268.

[27] Ibid., 273.

[28] Ibid., 276.

[29] Ibid., 284.

17 Mar

John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)

Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education is important to studies about gender and education in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America.

Locke wrote Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693 to his friend Samuel Clarke, who asked for advice on the education of his son. The audience for this educational manual is telling for what it relays to historians about gender and education. In the introduction, Locke noted that this “is how a young gentleman should be brought up from his infancy, which, in all things, will not so perfectly suit the Education of Daughters, though where the difference of sex requires different treatment, ‘twill be no hard matter to distinguish.”[1] Locke did not intend this book to be used as a guide for the education of females. Nevertheless, Colonial and early Republic Americans incorporated many of Locke’s ideas into their debates about women’s education in general, and the curriculum at female academies and schools. Below I will outline Locke’s arguments about education.

Locke begins his treatise by suggesting “that of all the Men we meet with, Nine parts of Ten are what they are, Good or Evil, useful or not, by their Education.”[2] Education was responsible for the conduct of men in everyday life. This departed with other notions of being, which suggested that humanity was tied to Original Sin or other innate logical premises. Locke’s notion of education first appeared in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), which suggested that infants were born with a tabula rasa, or blank state. Children had no innate ideas and, thus, could be educated in particular ways that would transform them into gentlemen. Children started learning as soon as they were born and it was parents’ jobs to educate them.

The first step in educating gentlemen was to train boys’ bodies so they would be healthy. The conditions under which parents trained boys’ bodies would make them more amenable to changes in their lives and particular situations. For example, boys required sleep. But, parents should make sure to alter the bedding so that boys would not be too comfortable in sleep. Changing the material of the bedding would train boys to sleep soundly in different situations, which would help them cope with travel and alternative sleeping situations later in life. Similarly, Locke suggested that boys’ bodies be trained in “Going to Stool, regularly,” exercise, getting air, eating, and dressing. The care of the body served a particular purpose. According to Locke, “Due care being had to keep the Body in Strength and Vigor, so that it may be able to obey and execute the order of the Mind.”[3] A rightly ordered body secured a rightly ordered mind.

The rightly ordered mind was based on rationality, logic, and reason. Locke advised parents to treat boys as “Rational Creatures.”[4] This meant allowing children to have curious minds, but not overindulging children by giving in to their demands. Children who always received what they wanted would not learn the discipline and self-denial required for a rational mind. Children who were overindulged would not attain virtue as men. Thus, Locke argued that children should be obedient to their parents’ reason until their own reason fully developed.

Despite Locke’s insistence on obedience, he wanted children to enjoy education. Education was a privilege, not a duty. Locke, advised parents to educate their children through experience and practice, rather than by memorizing rules. The focus on parents’ educating children is important to Locke’s pedagogy. Locke did not think that parents should send their children to schools. Boys required individual and specific attention in order to learn to be gentlemen. This could be achieved by parents’ instruction, and interaction with fathers and other male figures.

Locke argued that boys should be educated so they would attain virtue, wisdom, breeding, and learning. The primary reason for educating boys was to make them virtuous gentlemen. Locke placed “Vertue as the first and most necessary Endowments, that belong to a Man or a Gentleman.” A virtuous man would be loved by others, and would be happy in this world and the next. But, virtue did not mean being “good” in any abstract, amoral sense. Locke suggested that “As the Foundation of this, there ought very early be imprinted on his Mind a true notion of God, as of the independent Supreme Being….”[5] Educating children in virtue meant providing them with a religious education. Lock also insisted that children learn to pray and read scripture.  Wisdom was a “Man’s managing his Businesses abely, and with fore-sight in this world.[6] Children could not achieve wisdom in their youth because this required the learning of reason, a good temperament, and experience. Breeding meant that children learned good manners in order to display self-control, a good disposition, and composure in the company of others. Locke also described academic learning as part of children’s education.

Academic learning was the least important element of education for Locke. He suggested that “much Vertue, and a well-temper’d Soul is to be preferr’d to any sort of Learning or Language.[7] Academic education without virtuous or moral education was sure to produce the “worse or more dangerous Man.”[8] Nevertheless, Locke listed a curriculum appropriate for boys. First, boys should learn to read and write in English and then move on to French and Latin. With the introduction of these languages, boy should also begin learning geography, geometry, chronology, history, ethics, law, and natural philosophy. This was a classical education. Children should also learn a manual skill from gardening to carpentry to grinding optical lenses. These skills would help relax children’s minds and keep them from idleness. Travel was also a significant aspect of a child’s education because it allowed him to experience the world.

In the coming weeks, I will compare Locke and other pedagogues’ ideas about gender and education to understand their importance for education in nineteenth-century America.

[1] John Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education (A. and J. Churchill, 1693), 5.

[2] Ibid., 2.

[3] Ibid., 32.

[4] Ibid., 42.

[5] Ibid., 160.

[6] Ibid., 164.

[7] Ibid., 211.

[8] Ibid.