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08 Mar

Am I not a woman and a sister?

Am I Not a Woman And A Sister?

A variant of the Wedgewood designed seal of the Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade
Wikimedia – Public Domain

The eighteenth century had seen changes in the position of women, not all positive. While arguments for rights for all citizens clearly offered an opening for women to claim these rights, the tendency to assign women to a separate domestic sphere counteracted this. Even in charity work, where women were long pivotal, the growth of institutions tended to push female control to the sidelines. The setting up of institutions for women by women tended to counteract this trend, and women also continued to operate within the boundaries society had set for them.

The campaign against the slave trade was one philanthropic cause that appealed to women, and for which they could directly act. In January 1792 William Drennan in Dublin wrote to Samuel McTierin Belfast: “The Quakers here are forming associations against sugar, and I should much like to see family resolutions on the subject drawn up and subscribed by some of the matrons of Belfast most famous for conserves and preserves.” If a boycott of West Indian sugar was to be effective, it needed the support of those in charge of food production: the women.
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25 Jul

Fairy Field of Fiction

[Passions] borrow the language of reason to seduce us from her maxims. Our sex is more particularly exposed to this illusion. Our whole course of education is, in general, calculated to give additional force to the power of imagination, and to weaken, in a correspondent degree, the influence of judgment. You, my Harriet have in this respect an advantage over many of your sex. […] Your mind has not been suffered to run wild in the fairy field of fiction; it has been turned to subjects of real and permanent utility.

From Elizabeth Hamilton’s novel Memoirs of Modern Philosophers.

Elizabeth Hamilton (1756?–1816) was born in Belfast, probably on 25th July 1756, but lived much of her life in Scotland. Like her friend Maria Edgeworth she wrote novels and also philosophical pieces, mostly on education.

The primary aims of Modern Philosophers was to explore the role of women and to argue against “Jacobinism” or New Philosophy, that philosophy espoused by William Godwin, Mary Wollstonecraft and Thomas Paine. However, she also shared some of the concerns of that radical group. This passage, a letter written by Mrs Martha to her niece Harriet, criticises the education given to women; a topic that equally concerned Hamilton, Maria Edgeworth and Mary Wollstonecraft.

The first sentence is part of a larger quote from Rousseau.