Women and education : social feminism and intellectual emancipation in England and America

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Hodges, Sushmita
Wires, Richard
Issue Date
Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of History
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Social Feminism, as influenced by the Enlightenment, manifested itself between 1780 and 1860. An important aspect of social feminism was intellectual emancipation for women. Such intellectual emancipation came about through the blending of ideas emanating from prominent cultural and social centers in the western world. Women had been absorbing the reformist ideas of the Enlightenment philosophies, incorporating them into their own lines of thinking, and producing a social theory aiming at educational freedom for women. The individual efforts to initiate change in time reached beyond national boundaries through the pioneer social feminists' literary works and word of mouth. It is the intent of this dissertation to examine and analyze the linkage between the concept of social feminism and educational emancipation.The purpose of this research is to establish the significance of education as a major branch of social feminism within the context of the women's movement. To overcome language barriers that prevented research into other countries' women's movements, I have restricted this study to England and America and developed the concept of transatlantic feminism.Between 1780 and 1860 the women's "question" in England and America gained its theoretical foundations. Although there was no organized feminist movement, societies in both countries were being made conscious of the problems stemming from the subordinate status of women. This social awareness resulted from the tracts and discussions of certain male philosophers and of various exceptional females who focused on the question of women's rights and other related issues.The major emphasis during this early stage of the women's "question" was the issue of education as a vehicle for elevating the position of women. The education of available to women at that time was limited in nature. Training caring mothers was what social feminists protested against in their writings and discourses. Yet they understandably differed in their aims and formulas for change. Some spokeswomen, while accepting the societal status quo, promoted education as a means for women to recognize their moral superiority. There were yet others who demanded a "separate but equal" education so that women could exploit their full potential and, in some cases, assert their economic independence. All these social reformers, through their own unique experiences, also set examples for their contemporaries and future generations to follow.Despite some inconsistencies in their approaches to educational reform for women, almost all of the individual feminists discussed in this dissertation felt that intellectual emancipation would pave the way for improved social standing for women.