These books cover a range of topics portraying women in very different ways. Some were intended to be read by women, such as Countrey Contentments and The Queen-Like Closet, which include recipes for cordials and medicines, and other household matters such as laundry and baking. Other works go on to address standards of behaviour, such as in A Serious Proposal to the Ladies and A Discourse of Women.
Other works in this section were written and published around the time of the English Civil War, and show women in a more active light, petitioning Parliament for the cessation of hostilities.
Notable works in terms of women’s rights and their position in society include Joseph Swetnam’s infamous Arraignment of Women, which severely criticised all women and provoked immediate responses, one of which is included in this 19th century facsimile of the original work. The Woman as Good as the Man, is an early argument for equality between the sexes, and The Lawes Resolutions of Women's Rights clearly articulates the legal position of women in the second half of the 17th century.
The 18th century saw the rise of the novel, and with it female novelists. Included is a collection of works by Aphra Behn, who is widely held to be England's first female literary writer, and Evelina by Frances Burney, who would later inspire Jane Austen. Women began to write with voices of authority, as evidenced by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writings on Turkey, and Mary Wollstonecraft's seminal A Vindication of the Rights of Women. Woman not Inferior to Man, published 50 years prior to A Vindication actually goes as far as to argue women's superiority over men.
The education of women was also given greater consideration in this century, with Hannah More publishing Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education in 1799. Prior to that, works such as Hints for a System of Education, for a Female Orphan-House, and The Oeconomy of Charity (an appeal to ladies to set up more Sunday schools), demonstrate a greater role for women in education, both as educators and pupils.
Conduct books continued to be published throughout this century, with English housewifry, The Female Aegis and Wollstonecraft's Thoughts on the Education of Daughters given as examples.
Evelina [vol 1] (1784) - Frances Burney [68MB]
Evelina [vol 2] (1784) - Frances Burney [71MB]
Evelina [vol 3] (1784) - Frances Burney [70MB]
The industrialisation of Britain's economy during the 19th century prompted many writers to consider the working conditions that were being faced by women and children during the course of their employment. Included in this selection is an inquiry into the working conditions of women coal bearers in Scotland, and The Pageant, a series of short stories encouraging readers to consider the welfare of the people (notably women) they employ.
Women's rights continue to be discussed in this century, with calls for greater equality between the sexes in politics, domestic life, and in education. A notable work is Every Woman's Book, or, What is Love?, which advocates the use of birth control and for women to take greater ownership of their sexuality - this work was published nearly a century before Marie Stopes' seminal Married Love.
Also included in this section is the 20th Century work A Room of One's Own - Virginia Woolf's extended essay on women writers which calls for better education for women.