Teaching Women’s World History
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Topic #5: The Enlightenment


The Enlightenment was a time when writers and thinkers sharply debated questions about women’s rights. Issues of women’s options were framed in terms of “patriotic motherhood.” “liberty,” “natural rights,” and “emancipation” from familial control. Illustrious women were a vital part of these debates, either in participation through their own writings or as “salonnieres,” gathering the talented and witty of France together together.

1)  Madame de Staël: The Passionate Philosophe and Salonnière  Erudite essay on this salon hostess, political writer, astute critic of Enlightenment ideals. Includes autobiographical memoirs and poems.

2)  Madame de Staël: The Inveterate Idealist  Essay on Madame de Staël’s passions as a thorn in the establishment’s side. Also, her enthusiasm that united art, poetry, and politics.

3)  Sor Juana de la Cruz  Sor (Sister) Juana’s writings reveal her as one of the greatest intellectuals of her time. Link provides a short biography plus excerpts from her moving letter to the Bishop of Puebla, Mexico, defending the right of a woman to pursue a scholarly life.

4)  Mary Wollstonecraft  Short biography of this 18th century writer and intellectual whose works influenced the struggle of women beyond England.

5)  Mary Wollstonecraft Quotes  Students might take turns reading outloud.

6)  Mary Wollstonecraft Debates Jean-Jacque Rousseau, 1791  Short primary source lesson on both sides of the issue of women’s rights.

7)  Catherine the Great (1729-96): Empress of Russia  Short biography stressing her Enlightenment views and interest in the writings of the philosophers of the period.

8)  How Voltaire praised the 'enlightened despot,' Catherine the Great  Guardian June 2006 article on the satirist's heartfelt letters to the woman he admired.

9)  Catherine the Great: First She Read, Then She Ruled  2011 NPR interview about Catherine the Great by her biographer, Robert Massie. Might listen, or read it outloud.

Lyn Reese is the author of all the information on this website
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