Author: Mary Sheldon

Title: Female Education

Date: 10 October 1848

Source: Mary Sheldon Papers, Record Group 30/200

Document Type:

The essay below is from Mary Sheldon’s personal notebook. Her commitment to the rights and education of women, as well as abolition, is a theme throughout her writing. She critiques the social restrictions placed on women through inequalities in education. Oberlin was one of the few coeducational institutions of higher learning during her lifetime, and she was writing from a highly privileged position unavailable to many women. She believed that if women took initiative to obtain a thorough education parallelling men’s, they would earn respect and empowerment. Note how Sheldon chooses to frame patriarchy and women’s agency in the following passage, and consider how these approaches compare to contemporary ideas of women’s oppression.


Female Education                                                        Oct 10

I need not repeat the much, that has been said of the importance of a good education; but will observe, that it is as applicable to those, who do not take a part in the public affairs of life; That education is as needful to the lady as to the gentleman.1 But the education of females has [inserted above line: ever] been much neglected. Two or three centuries ago, woman began to arouse, as it were, and seemed determined to advocate her own rights. Since that time, there have not been wanting female smatterers2 in science to keep a continued dispute on the comparative merits of the male and female minds. This has often led woman from her from natural sphere of action, and exposed her to the pity of the learned and the scoffs and sneers of the ignorant. This is owing to a faulty education. They have, perhaps, read much while they have neglected, to pursue a thorough systematic course of study. They fancy, that they know all; or at least more than a majority of the world, and that they could not be better employed, than in imparting their knowledge to others. Some, perhaps, write for their own amusement improvement, but they are unwilling that their talent should be concealed, even until it approach nearer perfection. Thus the gazetts [sic] of the day are filled with the flimsy production of weak minds. Had they received the thorough instruction, the drilling, I may say, that boys commonly do, they would have shrunk from exposing to the criticisms of a partial world so much shallowness. To this is probably owing the character which is generally given to woman of possessing a mind inferior to man. We are happy however in the consciousness that the schools of the present day are such that woman has an opportunity of receiving at least an education sufficient to enable her to fill every station in which she may be called to act with credit to herself and satisfaction to others. Female schools are at the present day better calculated to discipline the mind than they were formerly. But owing to the few opportunities which woman has and the still fewer which she improves, of bringing the knowledge which she possesses into use, they seem to be more indifferent about it and leaves school much earlier than gentleman.

Knowing as we do the apathy of women on this subject we are unwilling to say, that the mind of woman [inserted above line: is] inferior to that of man; but more, that it is superior, until we have had more positive proof.

Proofed with Anna Bauman on 8 March 2015.

Transcribed by Bryn Whitney-Blum on 28 February 2015.

Final proof by Joanna Wiley.

1Sheldon’s writing style is full of commas placed where they would not belong by current grammatical standards.

2smatterer: a person who studies a subject in a superficial way or has only a slight knowledge of it.