Manuscript[Women’s Early Education.] Report of the Commission Charged to examine memoirs relative to the education of women. Third Subject. – Morality. By Mr. Philis – Reporter. 1827. Paper boards. Folio size, 13 in x 8.5 in. 68 pages of handwritten script in black ink. In this manuscript, one of the earliest formal debates on the value of education for women, the author radically concludes that formal education for women should be universally accessible: "We think that in whatever condition heaven has placed a woman,” the author argues, “from the daughter of the Prince to that of the most humble of the subjects, there should be a similarity of ideas.[...] When they are wisely explained the elements of Language, and Calculations, are they not necessary and indispensable to women in all stations?” The author then reverses the very argument used against women’s education-- that it is unnatural, since motherhood is the only suitable destiny for women-- by arguing that education is exactly suited to "what nature formed women to be". "She knows she was created to fulfill duties, and penetrated with a sense of those she has to perform, she makes all she possesses of enlightened ideas, talents, and fortune concur in accomplishing them. This is what nature formed women to be, and such a well directed education would make her. This is what would make a good mother of a family, who would well know how to form daughters worthy of imitating her." Education, in fact, is as naturally suited to women as motherhood, and ought to be the province of adult women and girls alike, regardless of age or opportunity-- an ideal still worth fighting for, even nearly two centuries later.
It begins with a deceptively leading question: “What is the sort of education most suitable to Woman, and the most proper to render them capable of fulfilling their destination as Mothers of families?”Although the opening query is limited by modern standards, formal education for many children—boys and girls alike—was not considered necessary in this period, let alone for adult women with responsibilities in the home. The argument that education would serve women in their motherly duties was a crucial tool for advocates of womens’ enfranchisement. The Commission judges three memoirs submitted on this topic, and this forms the structure of the manuscript: “The Education Best Adapted to Form A Good Mother of A Family Is That Received at Home"; "It is Well Known That The Bad Education Of Women, Does More Harm Than That of Men Because the Want of Good Conduct in Man Proceeds Frequently From The Education They Received From Their Mother [...]"; and "To Instruct the Children, One Must Enlighten the Mothers". Thus the manuscript is valuable not only for its radical ideals, but for its historical benefit as an overview of attitudes towards women’s education at the turn of the 20th century. Just one year prior, in 1826, the first public high schools were opened for girls in New York and Boston; it would be another 13 years until the first woman earned a college Bachelor’s degree. Cover boards worn with light soiling and scattered stains. Even toning and light soiling throughout. Very good to good condition.