Tuesday 5 March 2013

Harriet Who? and the Education of Girls - Joan Lennon

I had the feeling I'd heard the name some place, sometime, but that was about it. When, as part of the 26 Norwich Writers project,* I was paired with 19th century writer Harriet Martineau, I was starting from scratch.

I dipped into a Victorian biography, and Harriet's Autobiography, and downloaded a slew of titles by her onto my Kindle, googled about a bit - it was fun, but I was having trouble settling - until I started reading the un-prepossessing-ly titled Household Education (pub. 1848).  I'll just skim through, I thought, but I didn't.  I couldn't.  I'd like to spend from here to summer quoting bits from it but I won't.  In honour of this being a History Girl post I'll just share a little of what Harriet has to say on the subject of educating girls. 

"The footing of women is changed, and it will change more.  Formerly, every woman was destined to be married; and it was almost a matter of course that she would be: so that the only occupation thought of for a woman was keeping her husband's house, and being a wife and mother.  It is not so now ... A multitude of women have to maintain themselves who would never have dreamed of such a thing a hundred years ago.  This is not the place for a discussion whether this is a good thing for women or a bad one; or for a lamentation that the occupations by which women might maintain themselves are so few; and of those few, so many engrossed by men.  This is not the place for a speculation as to whether women are to grow into a condition of self-maintenance, and their dependence for support upon father, brother and husband to become only occasional ... What we have to think of is the necessity, - in all justice, in all honour, in all humanity, in all prudence, - that every girl's faculties should be made the most of, as carefully as boys'."

She could be speaking to our world today as pertinently as to her own.  Harriet Martineau - I salute you!

Joan Lennon's website.
Joan Lennon's blog.

* In celebration of Norwich becoming the first English UNESCO City of Literature, the writers' co-operative 26 has come up with another fabulous project - 26 Norwich Writers - in which 26 contemporary writers have been randomly paired with 26 writers from or associated with Norwich in its long history, and asked to write a response.  Watch out for the results in the coming months!

P.S.  I'm away from my computer some of this week doing World Book Day events, but will definitely be reading and responding to comments when I get home!


Austin said...

I would also like to salute Harriet Martineau! And thanks for that pertinent quotation, which I found simultaneously heartening and saddening. Heartening, because of its truth clearly spoken. Saddening because, despite having been written over one hundred years ago, it remains as fresh and contemporary in the urgency of its need to be said as it was then.

I made a special point when studying history - and especially the history of art and literature - with my children , to seek out the work and biographies of women artists and writers. It was not always easy! One fascinating insight was the discovery that in Renaissance Italy, many great female artists enjoyed equal fame and recognition to that of the likes of Michelangelo, da Vinci, Raphael and so on, but their histories were subsequently expunged from the canon.

Thanks for a very inspiring post.

Joan Lennon said...

Thank you! And I didn't know that about the Renaissance women painters - I will be looking out for them now!

Theresa Breslin said...

Look out for woman troubadours too Joan - some very interesting women in South of France who made significant contribution to courtly music.

Joan Lennon said...

I will!

Leslie Wilson said...

I would join in the salute to Harriet.

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