The Education/Rights of Women in the 19th Century

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?During the 19th century, women and the British culture made significant strides in their fight to obtain equal rights. Female poets such as Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Barrett Browning and many more used their experience and knowledge to aid them in their movement. Both came from different backgrounds of life but neither of them allowed social boundaries to interrupt their purpose.

?Women during the 19th century did not get the opportunity to obtain an education because of traditional beliefs about the woman’s role. Many women were hardly recognized as individuals because they were always to accompany their husbands whenever they went out. The roles of women during the 19th century were to stay at home and take care of the house. The men were to go out to work and come home and be comforted by their wife. Only a small percentage of women got a chance to get an education and it was often viewed as a bad thing. The call for change grew more when activists became more aggressive and the government became more repressive. Movements were led mainly by middle-class, liberal women, and their work in philanthropy, public works, and organizing showed many, that women could participate in the public sphere.

?The Separate Spheres of Ideology were divided into the Public sphere and the Domestic sphere. Men were a part of the Public sphere and were believed to do all the working and making money for the family while the women were apart of the Domestic sphere and they were to do work at home that consisted of cooking, cleaning, and taking care of the children. “Women were considered physically weaker yet morally superior to men, which meant that they were best suited to the domestic sphere. Not only was it their job to counterbalance the moral taint of the public sphere in which their husbands laboured all day, they were also preparing the next generation to carry on this way of life.” (Hughes) It was rare to find a household that went against the belief of the separate spheres. A few women began to test these boundaries. They believed that the two separate spheres could merge into one and give women the same rights as the men. One of these women was Mary Wollstonecraft.

?Mary Wollstonecraft was an English writer and a strong activist for the women’s rights movement. She wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Women” to respond to critics about their thoughts on women’s educational rights. An article by Louis Worth Jones stated, “Wollstonecraft boldly declared that all people—men, women, and children—have a right to an independent mind. She envisioned a society in which women could be educated and work alongside men as co-equals in every pursuit.” Wollstonecraft argued that God did not create one gender to be superior to the other. She argued that both women and men were victims to the social boundaries. “Whilst women are only made to acquire personal accomplishments, men will seek for pleasure in variety, and faithless husbands will make faithless wives… What is to preserve private virtue, the only security of public freedom and universal happiness?” (Wollstonecraft, “Vindication” 213). This quote means that if all men do is seek for pleasure from their wives, the marriage will fall apart. If both men and women could participate in the public sphere, they will better understand each other. “Claiming that improper education was one of the main causes of social dysfunction, Wollstonecraft argues that without a proper education and understanding of the world, women are not able to be the partners that their husbands needed, in order to manage the household effectively and educate the children that they were expected to produce.” (Wolf) Saying that by the only security of public freedom and universal happiness is private virtue she means that being a good person in private life, it will help find happiness. Mary Wollstonecraft believes that reason formed the outline for human rights. She believed that women are believed to be a part of the domestic sphere because of the way they were raised. Women were never considered to be apart of the public sphere. If girls were given the same opportunities for schooling at a young age, this would allow them to fully develop so they could enter in the work force and have careers just like the men. The impact of Wollstonecraft’s experience helps provide a first-person perspective to her reasoning. She went through the same criticism and had received a poor education. This inspired her to do something about it and became one of the leading voices of the women’s rights movement.

?Elizabeth Barrett Browning was an English poet during the 19th century. Unlike Wollstonecraft, Browning was raised in a wealthy family. She was homeschooled student who had read many poems before she turned ten years old. Her poem “Aurora Leigh” and was about a female poet and her struggle to make a living doing what she loved. The issue of women’s education is presented many times throughout the poem. At one point in the poem, Aurora’s aunt subjects her to an ‘education’ system which threats to eradicate both her enquiring mind and her individuality. She is made to read conduct books on how to be a good woman, learn lists of useless facts, and perform obtuse tasks like spinning glass and modelling flowers in wax (Book 1, ll. 399-426). This shows that even some women knew they were unequal with men. Marian Earle is a women in the poem who is abused by her family and is sold into a brothel. When Aurora meets Marian, she is living in a slum as a single mother. Victorians would consider Marian a “fallen woman.” A fallen woman is described as a women who lost her innocence and has fallen from the grace of God. Marian who was raped and conceived a child has been manipulated by society. Aurora allows Marian to live with her because she, “is morally pure rather than morally tainted.” (Avery).

?Mary Wollstonecraft and Elizabeth Barrett Browning are key components that helped spread the awareness to women’s rights and ignited a campaign for women’s equality. They used their life experiences and knowledge to help guide them into being successful poets in a time when it was rare to be successful as a woman. They described the hardships of being a woman and why women could also be capable to make a living for themselves.

Works Cited

  1. Avery, Simon. “Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Woman Question.” The British Library, ?The British Library, 12 Feb. 2014,
  2. Browning, Elizabeth Barret. “Aurora Leigh.” (1806-1861). London: J. Miller, 1864. Reprinted:?? Chicago: Academy Chicago Printers (Cassandra Editions), 1979
  3. Hughes, Kathryn. “Gender Roles in the 19th Century.” The British Library, The British Library, ?13 Feb. 2014,
  4. Jones, Louis Worth. “Mary Wollstonecraft.” Mary Wollstonecraft, Unitarian Universalist ?History & Heritage Society (UUHHS) , 29 July 2000, ?
  5. Utell, Janine. “A Women Question.” Modernist Journals Project ?
  6. Wollstonecraft, Mary. “A Vindication of the Rights of Women.” The Norton Anthology of ?English Literature: The Romantic Period, Volume D. Ed. Stephen Greenblatt. New York: ?W.W. Norton, 2012. 211-39. Print
  7. Wolf, Tiffiny, “Women’s Place in Society during the Romantic Era.” Wake Review Literary ?Magazine Club,
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The Education/Rights of Women in the 19th Century. (2021, Apr 03). Retrieved May 19, 2024 , from

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