Acquiring Education: Early Modern Women's Pedagogies (seminar)

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For more past programming from the Folger Institute, please see the article Folger Institute scholarly programs archive.

This was a spring 2013 faculty weekend seminar led by Margaret J.M. Ezell.

Lucy Hutchinson recalled that as a seven-year-old she had “at one time eight tutors in several qualities, languages, music, dancing, writing, and needlework; but my genius was quite averse from all but my book.” This seems a paradox as, on the one hand, we have numerous early modern treatises declaring that education was harmful for women, but we also have individual memoirs and historical biographies that suggest some early modern women were extraordinarily well educated. A gulf seems to lie between the writing ladies who loved Latin and the presumably silent, illiterate housewives of the prescriptive treatises. What do we make of the prayers, mediations, account books, recipe books, poems, and letters we have from otherwise unknown women? This seminar explored two large topics: what did it mean to be an “educated” woman in the early modern period and how did girls and adult women acquire “education”? Such large umbrella topics invite research projects from faculty that pursue the changing definitions of literacy, the function of case studies in creating women’s literary history, the forms of education outside of the “three Rs,” and what means might be used to retrieve information about early modern women and their various educations.


Director: Margaret J.M. Ezell is Distinguished Professor of English and holder of the Sara and John Lindsey Chair of Liberal Arts at Texas A&M University. Author of The Patriarch’s Wife: Literary Evidence and the History of the Family (1987) and Writing Women’s Literary History (1996), she is currently completing the volume covering 1645–1714 for the Oxford English Literary History series and editing the poems of Anne Killigrew.