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Friday, March 23, 2012

The Rights of Woman

March is Women's History Month and this week I thought I'd highlight a letter from our Rush collection that deals with Mary Wollstonecraft's famous 1792 book A Vindication of the Rights of Woman. (Full text of Vindication can be found at Project Gutenberg)

In this ca. 1793 letter, Annis Boudinot Stockton, herself a published poet and author, is writing to her daughter, Julia Stockton Rush (wife of Benjamin Rush). She offers a detailed, and specifically American, response to the thought-provoking text.


Annis Boudinot Stockton., autograph letter signed to Julia Stockton Rush. 22 March [1793?] Rush I:05:08

I have been engaged these two days with reading the rights of women, which I never could procure before, tho it has been much longer in the neighborhood. I have been musing upon the subject over my solitary fire till I took up the resolution to give you my sentiments upon it tho I suppose it is an old thing with you--I wonder you never sent me your critique.

I am much pleased with her strength of reasoning, and her sentiment in general__but think that she like
many other great geniuses establish an Hypothesis and lay such weight upon it as to cause the superstructure to destroy the foundation. and I am sorry to find a woman capable to write such structures should complement Rousseau's nonsense so much as to make his ideas of women the criterion of the rank they hold in society. I think we need go no farther than his Confessions, to discover that he had some defect in his brain, or that he was a refined idiot, rather than an enlightened philosopher.

I
have always contended that the education of women was not made a matter of that importance, which it ought to have been, but we see that error daily correcting--and in this Country, the Empire of Reason is not monopolized by men, there is great pains taken to improve our sex, and store their minds with that knowledge best adapted to make them useful in the situation that their Creator has placed them--and we do not often see those efforts opposed by the other sex, but rather disposed to assist them by every means in their power, and men of sense generally prefer such women as Companions thro life.

The state of society may be different in Europe from what it is here in America--but from the observation I have been able
to make in my own Country, I do not think any of the slavish obedience exists that she talks so much of.__I think the women have their equal right of every thing, Latin and Greek excepted...

Stockton goes on for two more pages, discussing Wollstonecraft, reiterating her own belief that "there is no sex in the soul," but pointing out that "we are all beings dependent on one another, and therefore must often expect the inconveniences that must necessarily arise form the weakness of human nature, and the imperfection of some of those with whom we are connected." She eventually concludes "to sum up my poor judgment upon this wonderful book, I do really think a great deal of instruction may be gathered from it and I am sure that noone can read it, but they may find something or other, that will correct their conduct and enlarge their ideas."

If your interest is piqued, you can come see the letter for yourself, by making an appointment in the reading room. There is also an article entitled " A Late Night Vindication: Annis Boudinot Stockton's Reading of Mary Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" by Caroline Wigginton, published in Legacy Vol. 25, No. 2, which goes into this letter in much greater depth and with much more exploration of gender theory.



Kathy Haas is the Assistant Curator at the Rosenbach Museum & Library and the primary poster at the Rosen-blog

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