The late eighteenth century was a time of drastic change in Western society. Many revolutions occurred, including the American Revolution and the French Revolution.
Women’s rights movements grew, as did educational reform movements. With these came new occupations and changes in the way people viewed work.
This was the time when the Industrial Revolution began to take form, creating many new jobs for men as they left their homes to work in factories. This also brought about a separation of home and work life for many people, especially women.
A key figure in the early feminist movement was Judith Sargent Murray (1751-1820). She was a writer, educator, and orator who advocated for women’s rights and education. She wrote several books that were published during her lifetime, as well as an unpublished autobiography that detailed her life from 1776 to 1820 (Benson 1).
Encouraging women to take up writing
While writing for women wasn’t a new phenomenon in the eighteenth century, the way it was discussed and encouraged was. Women were not only told it was acceptable to write, but that it could be an important way to escape from domesticity.
Many of the “instructions for a lady’s private study” mentioned writing as a useful occupation that could help women gain some independence. Writing was one of the few things that were considered acceptable for women to spend their time doing.
In her article “The Lady scholar: The Aesthetics of Femininity in Early-Georgian England,” historian Sarah West mentions how one text even said that “the pen is mightier than the needle.” This implies that even though sewing was considered a proper feminine occupation, writing might be more worthy than sewing.
Encouraging women to take up painting
In the late eighteenth century, one way that women could get involved in the arts was by taking up painting. That was the route that Judith Sargent Murray took.
A daughter of a well-to-do family, Judith Sargent was born in 1760. She grew up spending a lot of time with her parents and siblings, and she also had several siblings around her age with whom she would play.
Judith showed an early interest in art, and her parents supported this interest. They paid for her to take classes in art when she was young, and as she grew up she continued to develop her skills. By the time she was an adult, she was well-qualified to take lessons in painting.
She never actually became a professional artist, however; instead, she used her painting skills for leisure. She would spend time on paintings for herself or for family members as gifts.
Encouraging women to take up acting
In the late eighteenth century, many women were discouraged from pursuing education. Even more so, women were not encouraged to be outspoken or to express their opinions.
Not only was Judith Sargent Murray outspoken, she encouraged other women to be the same. In fact, she wrote a piece about how education could improve women’s lives.
One thing that Judith Sargent Murray praised was the act of encouraging women to take up acting. This might sound strange at first, but hear her out.
She writes that “the Stage is open” to women and that they can “exhibit their Talents” there. She goes on to say that this is an opportunity for them to show what they are “capable of doing in any Part of life.” (Source: The Cambridge Companion To Women’s Writing In English.
Encouraging women to take up entrepreneurship
In the late eighteenth century, entrepreneurship was a domain almost exclusively occupied by men. Men were considered the more logical and practical gender, so they were encouraged to dream big and pursue their business ideas.
Women, on the other hand, were discouraged from doing so. It was believed that their place was in the home taking care of the family, not running a business that would require them to be away from the home.
This is where Judith Sargent Murray comes in. She was a female intellectual who advocated for women’s rights and freedom of expression. She also encouraged women to take up entrepreneurship as a way to support themselves and their families.
She did this by writing several articles about successful female entrepreneurs and how they got started. By spreading awareness about entrepreneurship in women, she helped pave the way for future female business owners.
Supporting gender equality
Along with her husband, Judith Sargent married into a well-established political family. The two were close friends with Thomas Jefferson, one of the founders of the Democratic-Republican Party.
As a woman, Judith couldn’t pursue a political career like her husband and her friend Thomas could, but she could champion causes.
Judith was an early supporter of gender equality, something that wouldn’t be achieved until almost a century after her death. She wrote several essays promoting equal education for women and men, including “On the Equality of Sexes” in 1810.
She also encouraged women to become educated and to enter professions like teaching and writing to further their independence. Even though she didn’t know it at the time, she was also promoting self-esteem for women by telling them they were as smart as men.
Raising feminist children
A mother can either raise a child or educate a child, but rarely both at the same time. As a mother, you have the opportunity to shape the children you raise into the world, but it is hard work.
By educating your children, you help them become confident, independent, and self-directed individuals. You teach them how to manage their time, how to manage their resources (money, food, etc.), and how to navigate their world with confidence.
By raising feminist children, you teach them about equality and empower them to make healthy choices based on that knowledge. You also give them someone else to talk to about issues related to gender and sexuality which can help reduce internalized sexism.
This is an important aspect of raising children as feminists: helping kids develop a strong sense of self and combating internalized sexism is critical for this effort.
Connecting with other like-minded people
As the age of enlightenment waxed and waned, so did the era of the enlightened society. In the late eighteenth century, the era of the enlightened society was in full force, with people believing that individual freedom and liberty could be attained through social changes.
People began to form groups based on common interests and beliefs, which led to the growth of intellectual societies. These societies brought like-minded people together to discuss issues and ideas, creating a sense of community among them.
Intellectual societies gave people a place to share their ideas and interests, but these groups also had another important effect: they reduced social isolation.
Being part of a group of like-minded individuals can help improve wellbeing, according to Professor Dorothy Burmaster from Loyola University Chicago. She says that joining groups that share your values can help you feel more connected and valued.
Starting a discussion group
In the late eighteenth century, discussion groups were very popular. These groups would meet at a public place to discuss a topic that interested them.
They would choose a topic and then read up on it before the meeting so that they could talk about it. The meetings were more informal than what we think of as a lecture or class.
These groups would meet at a public place to discuss a topic that interested them. They would choose a topic and then read up on it before the meeting so that they could talk about it. The meetings were more informal than what we think of as a lecture or class.
The best part? You can start your own! If you and some friends are interested in a topic, then go ahead and organize a meeting to discuss it. You can do this in your home, at a local library or restaurant, or even at an official venue if you can get enough people to come.