Degree Name





Family, Home, and Social Sciences

Defense Date


Publication Date


First Faculty Advisor

Dr. Rebecca de Schweinitz

First Faculty Reader

Dr. Brandie Siegfried

Honors Coordinator

Dr. Shawn Miller


Bathsua Makin, Anna Maria Van Schurman, proto-feminist, metaphysics of womanhood, Margaret Cavendish, women's language learning


This thesis explores the intellectual history of proto-feminist thought in early modern England and seeks to better understand the transnational elements of and influences on proto-feminist theorists’ arguments in favor of women’s education in the late seventeenth century. A close reading of Bathsua Makin and Anna Maria Van Schurman’s essays in relation to one another, and within their social and historical context, reveals the importance of ideas of religion and social order, especially class, in understanding and justifying women’s education. The metaphysical foundation of Makin’s arguments in favor of women’s education is that the true nature of women, including their ability to benefit from education, can be confused with longstanding cultural norms limiting their opportunities to learn. Makin and Van Schurman argue that society’s customs should align with women’s inherent abilities and desires, including providing them with educational opportunities – an argument echoed by both contemporary and later proto-feminist authors. Although the ideals expressed in both of their essays focused on the education of elite women, and so appealed primarily to an upper-class audience, a better understanding of how highly educated women advocated for the expanded education of women illuminates a portion of the narrative that has yet to be examined in detail: how and why these proto-feminist authors argued in favor of women’s education, and how their social, religious, and Humanist atmosphere influenced their arguments as well as their understanding of the apparent discrepancy between the ontological and cultural metaphysics of womanhood.


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