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Apology for Studious Ladies

Anna Harrington

September 27, 1793 — Ladies’ Exhibition at her school house, Massachusetts



It is not unknown to you, how much wit has been scattered on the subject of the loquacity of women — and how much satire expended in ridiculing ladies who have a taste for learning — but if an eminent faculty of speech be possessed by women, for once let it be employed to a good purpose — let us plead the cause of a sex, who by nature are too feeble to employ force; and by principle too virtuous to use fraud, to accomplish their designs. My apology is for those young ladies, who wish to excel in endowments of the mind — will it be thought a crime, or a breach of modesty to enquire; why such an attempt should be liable to censure — especially as it cannot arise from malice to any person whatever — if we be exposed to at least an equal share of the miseries of life, ought we to be separated from its most sublime, and most constant delights? Does not the condition of a lady require, as much as any, the delightful amusement of elegant essays, of poetry and music? Has she no need of that firmness of mind which philosophy inspires? Would not the sublime consolations of religion greatly increase her happiness? But these are enjoyed in their full force only by an enlightened mind — in a rural retirement, a solitary dwelling, and silence all around her, her most agreeable friends being abroad on business, to have these ideas crowd upon the mind, with which she has been inspired by the fine arts, by philosophy and religion, must assuredly be a great consolation.

But it is said, that it will make all our women dissipated and idle — how does this appear? Do men who have wives well educated in point of learning prosper in their affairs less than others — ask those gentlemen of this assembly whose wives have been the best educated, whether they find them to be less attentive to domestic concerns, or worse economists than the others — May not more women be trusted with knowledge, as well as these. Or is there any fear that women shall gain too much influence; and become mistresses of the world in spite of man? When we shall quit our domestic employments, put on offensive armor, and become fond of the art of war, then such an event may be feared; and not till then — Power derived from force is denied to women by the God of Nature.

The graces, the virtues, the art of pleasing, are the only ways by which women can influence the minds and actions of men — the fear of those who hold learning to be dangerous to ladies amounts to this — that they are afraid that they shall be too much attracted; that their reason will force them to approve of the conduct of the ladies, and that they shall be attached to the ladies, even against their own inclination. If the ladies then wish to indulge a stroke of policy let it be this: to gain the approbation of those who censure us; & to make even satirists confess, that we act with propriety — this is perfectly consistent with our principles — and there is nothing more conducive to this purpose than the information, which the arts afford — we may safely acquire as much knowledge, as our situation in life will admit, opposing to the geniuses of the age, who ridicule the studies of women, the sentiment of Cicero;

While other pursuits suit not to all ages, and stations; that of learning agrees to all. It strengthens the minds of youth, and gives joy in old age — It adorns prosperity, and comforts us in affliction — at home it is delightful, and it is a help to business abroad — it attends us in our travels, and is the joy of our rural retirements — and though we ourselves were incapable of the arts, we should still admire them, and be captivated with their charms, when we beheld them in others.


Source: Dramatic Dialogues for the Use of Schools, ed. Charles Stearns (John Prentiss, & Co.), 1798, p. 499.