Judith Sargent Murray was one of those women who is frequently called “a feminist” because she worked toward equality between women and men, but there wasn’t a name for this yet. She would never call herself a feminist because that might be like one of the Viking Captains calling himself an astronaut.
She was born to a wealthy and prominent family in Glouchester, Massachusetts family in 1751. Like most families of that time, the girl children were not educated beyond the basics they learned at home. The Sargent brothers are the ones who went to Harvard, but thankfully, her parents were liberal enough to allow Judith to study alongside her brother as she prepped for Harvard and continued alongside him when he came home from school in the Summer months.
This was the beginning of her unwavering belief in the education of girls and women. Her first published essay (under the pen name Constantia) was titled: “Desultory Thoughts of Self-Complacency, Especially in Female Bosoms,” which appeared in 1784. It is, perhaps, a chapter from one of her earliest drafts of the work she published in 1790, On the Equality of the Sexes, which she reportedly completed its first draft in 1779 but was not ready to have it published at that time.
In addition to the pen name of Constantia, she also wrote under the name “Mr. Vigillius” because she believed he would have a wider readership than Constantia. “He” wrote fiction which described and illustrated Judith’s views on religion, politics, education and the manners and customs of the day.
Judith also had literary leanings in poetry, playwriting, fiction. She was well respected, usually, but had a few anti-admirers. The most notable of these was Thomas Paine. He went so far as to lambast her plays and encourage people to not attend. While her plays were somewhat popular, they were never critically acclaimed.
Another little known contribution of Judith Sargent Murray is she was the founder of the first academy for girls in the United States. She believed in a more rigorous education for women in order for them to assume their responsibilities in the new nation. She and several women founded the academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, and it began educating young women not only in the area, but from afar. Some of these girls even boarded at the Murray home while being educated.
Long ago she wrote, “I may be accused of enthusiasm; but such is my confidence in THE SEX, that I expect to see our young women forming a new era in female history."
May we continue to form a new era in history of women and men, together.
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Tomorrow’s Literary Granny:Katharine Lee Bates
This post is a part of my series Our Literary Grannies from A t0 Z which was inspired by the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Find out more about the Challenge by clicking here.
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Tomorrow’s Literary Granny: Katharine Lee Bates, Writer of “America the Beautiful”, among other things.