Maria Gaetana Agnesi

in The Contest for Knowledge

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2005 | ISBN: 9780226010540
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226010564 | DOI:
Maria Gaetana Agnesi

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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This chapter presents an oration made by Maria Gaetana Agnesi in defense of women's education before a group of patricians in the summer of 1727. Her oration repeatedly takes to task those critics of women's education who restrict learning to a small circle of elite males rather than imagining learning as a public good for all of humanity. She laments the ignorance of the husbands who confine women to enforced idleness upon marriage and who allow their daughters to grow up equally unlearned. Agnesi chastised her audience for condescending to women and encouraged them to think of a learned wife as the best asset of any marriage. At the same time, however, Agnesi's oration sets clear limits on women's use of their learning. Most importantly, she argues for a return to the values of the past when women were instructed by men and also instructed them in the most profound aspects of philosophy.

Keywords: Maria Gaetana Agnesi; women's education; marriage; philosophy

Chapter.  11611 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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