Women of the Scottish Enlightenment: Their Importance in the History of Scottish Education

Russell, Rosalind (1988) Women of the Scottish Enlightenment: Their Importance in the History of Scottish Education. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Historians have already demonstrated that the European Enlightenment energised debate on the social and political role of women. They have also shown that women themselves took an active part in widening their own intellectual horizons. This study shows that similar debate and female intellectual activity existed during the Scottish Enlightenment. Indeed, the period between 1750 and 1830 can be regarded as a watershed in Scottish women's history. There is evidence that during this time Scottish women began to question the existing role-model of wife and mother and, in the process, began to seek new opportunities elsewhere in civil society. This thesis, then, examines the role of Scottish women in public life between 1750 and 1830. In particular it focuses upon their relationship to the ideological changes of the Enlightenment. Did more enlightened attitudes towards women in Scottish society encourage women to break with past custom? Or was it on their own initiative that Scotswomen developed new interests and patterns of behaviour? To answer these questions a variety of sources were consulted. Information about Scottish women in mainstream accounts of Scottish history is sparse and so the main evidence in this thesis is drawn from letters; diaries; family papers; books written by women; biographies; newspapers and periodicals; and writings by men on the social role and education of women. The evidence discussed in Chapter One shows that Scotswomen during this period played a vital role in Scottish public life, as well as in the domestic sphere. It also suggests that the achievements of such women were gained as a result of their own efforts. Chapter Two indicates that the attitudes of Scottish men between 1750 and 1830 towards the social role and education of women remained, for the most part, unchanged from those held by earlier generations. With certain notable exceptions, for example Sir Walter Scott and the philosopher, Dugald Stewart, many of the Scottish Enlightenment literati advocated domestic training for women in conformity with women's role as wives and mothers. It is not surprising, therefore, as Chapter Three demonstrates, that educational provision for most Scottish girls remained unchanged. Girls were still unable to attend grammar schools and universities. Nevertheless, a number of Scottish women, for example Elizabeth Hamilton, Mary Somerville, Joanna Baillie and Frances Wright, read widely, often in secret, and taught themselves the elements of knowledge generally restricted to men. Such dedication to the process of self-education included some women writing about education and the social role of women. Their ideas are discussed in Chapter Four. While many Scottish women conformed to the role prescribed for them by men, some, for instance Frances Wright, broke with convention and preached that women should play an equal part with men in the running of society. The actions of Scotswomen between 1750 and 1830 not only had immediate impact on contemporary history, their ideas and writings also encapsulated the spirit of Enlightenment philosophy, particularly in its application to education. The overall aim of this thesis is, therefore, to convince its readers that women of the Scottish Enlightenment deserve a more important position in the history of Scottish education and in women's history generally.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Education history, Women's studies
Date of Award: 1988
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1988-77680
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 Jan 2020 11:53
Last Modified: 14 Jan 2020 11:53
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/77680

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