Thursday 11 March 2010

Women - how much education have women had in the past 2,000 years?

Women in Science – were there any before the 1700s? We would probably have thought not especially if we read the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of the woman who would become Mary Shelley and the authoress of the novel “Frankenstein”.

Wollstonecraft (1759 – 1797) is best known for “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792) in which she argues that women are not naturally inferior to men, but appear to be only because they lack education. She suggests that both men and women should be treated as rational beings and imagines a social order founded on reason.
Woman Teaching Geometry. Illustration at the beginning of a medieval translation of Euclid’s Elements (c1310)
The only reason Mary Wollstonecraft rings a bell with me, is that her tomb is in the local St Pancras Old Churchyard, next to what was St Pancras Workhouse, where my mother went for assessment before her move to Eastbourne. Apparently her tomb was where Mary, the aforesaid daughter, and Percy Byssche Shelley, laid their plans to elope and marry.
Richard Rothwell's portrait of Mary Shelley was shown at the Royal Academy in 1840, accompanied by lines from Percy Shelley's poem The Revolt of Islam calling her a "child of love and light".
This week commemorates International Women’s Day, which started as a movement in Eastern Europe, as a Socialist political event subsequently losing that flavour, and becoming an occasion for men to express their love for women in a way somewhat similar to a mixture of Mother’s Day and St Valentine’s Day. (The Christian festival of Mothering Sunday, which we celebrate herein England this coming weekend is our Mother’s Day, while the Americans and other parts of the world celebrate their Mother’s Day in May , though I’m sure Hallmark would like us to have two ceremonies!).

In other parts of the world the original political and human rights theme designated by the United Nations runs strong, where the political and social awareness of the struggles of women worldwide are brought out and examined in a hopeful manner.

The United Nations Page on “Investing in Women and Girls” comments that this ‘Day for Women’ is an occasion to look back, but “more importantly for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women”. The historical perspective and general details are set out in the UN page.

In 2000 eight Millennium Development Goals were pledged by the 192 member states; Goal number 3 is to “Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women”: all the goals can be read here.
The MDGs in the United Nations Headquarters in New York

Going back to Women in Science, women have contributed from the earliest days, but as contributors have generally not been acknowledged. My interest came about as we have here on the BBC seven programmes through the last 2,000 years called the “Seven Ages of Britain” and this week’s episode was entitled “The Age of Money” (approx 1700 – 1800).

The eighteenth century was the period when Britain was starting to become the wealthiest and leading country in the world, spawning a huge amount of entrepreneurial talent, together with enormous developments in learning. Each new stage added to the store house of knowledge and prosperity that was growing at exponential proportions throughout Great Britain at that time, as in 1707 the Act of Union with Scotland came into effect.

London became the new business capital of the world, while having incredible explorers, cartographers, painters, artists, architects and designers, whereas Scotland was the new intellectual centre fostering philosophers and scientists. William Hunter was one of these scientists, having studied medicine in 1737, who went on to become a leading teacher in anatomy, and the outstanding obstetrician of his day.

Hunter became physician to Queen Charlotte (1744 – 1818), King George III’s wife, enabling him, as the leading obstetric consultant in London, to build an anatomy theatre and museum, where all the best British anatomists and surgeons for the period were trained.
Page from The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus Exhibited in Figures
Hunter has been credited with the rediscovery of Leonardo da Vinci’s anatomical dissections, which are conserved in the Royal Collection at Windsor, and on which he commissioned the sculptor and the artist to base their work. The greatest sculptural work was The Anatomy of the Human Gravid Uterus exhibited in figures (1774); while the Baskerville Press published very detailed engravings – both of which were used by Hunter at his teaching theatre.
A page from Leonardo's journal showing his study of a foetus in the womb (c. 1510) Royal Library, Windsor Castle
There are records of women in antiquity being involved in medicine in the early civilisations of Egypt and Greece, as well as the scholarly subjects of alchemy, philosophy, geometry, algebra, astronomy including the invention of a number of new devices.

University education was available to women in the medieval period in Europe, mainly covering medical subjects especially obstetrics and gynaecology; while convents were another place of education for women and provided opportunities for them to contribute to scholarly research.

Despite the success of some women, cultural biases against women were prominent in the MiddleAges affecting the education and participation of women in science. Many people believed in the submission of women as an important value and many of these biases against women stemmed from Christian philosophy. St Thomas Aquinas, a Christian scholar (1225 – 1274), wrote referring to women “She is mentally incapable of holding a position of authority”. No wonder we are the power behind the throne mostly!

This bias continued against women’s education and to some extent continues even today, though women are getting recognised posthumously from foregone eras. My thought on William Hunter was that his sculptural exhibits and drawings must have made a tremendous difference to women at the point of childbirth at that time ... and how our future learning about ourselves would have helped other areas of life, eg lambing, which is going on in this country now.
A woman weaving. Textile work has historically been a female occupation in some cultures.
This week is for all women in the world, where we are lucky in our western world that we now can utilise 100% of our brain power, rather than just 50% .. and that Millennium Goal of Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women rings so true for the rest of the world, as well as acknowledging the imbalances that are held within our own developed part of the world: we, men and women, are the world .. let’s use 100%.

Dear Mr Postman .. it is still freezing .. and although my mother usually does not feel the cold, having moved her to an east facing room .. it sure is cold! Due to the Cdifficile we had to move her – just a little extra work for me .. new decorations etc & taking the old ones down .. and complying with the infection controls .. just what I need! She is definitely better and can hear fine – so apart from being weaker and not quite right .. we’re back to square four or thereabouts!
Hilary Melton-Butcher
Positive Letters Inspirational Stories


Wilma Ham said...

Oh Hilary, you sure have a hard time with all the complications relating to your Mum's health. You are coping tremendously well, for a woman :)?!@*&
Gheez, it is hard NOT to get wound up by this post and that Thomas Aquinas better not be in heaven when I arrive. Either he or I will be thrown out.
Oh how sad, how sad, to have been denied acknowledgment for diversity and to have been denied contribution for so long.
Wow, there is indeed a lot of mess to clean up. What I do find heart warming is that we have been part of science at some stage as your first illustration shows.
I cannot wait for the times to come when we are free to choose whatever we want to get involved with, both men and women.
That will be the day, wouldn't it be Hilary?
Lots of love to you and your Ma, xox Wilma

janice | Sharing the Journey said...

Happy International Women's week! Other folk might think we're from the same county, but you and I know we're from neighbouring countries.

As I was reading this,I thought of Marie Curie, and what we owe her. I also smiled in the middle when you described the all too common pattern of Scotland producing talented folk who then went off and lived elsewhwere. Throughout history, we've exported a lot of mindpower! I think it's the weather; they'd maybe stay if we were a bit more like Greece.

Take great care around the CDiff. It's awful for your mum, and crucial you take good care of yourself.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Wilma .. yea .. life goes on! Fun isn't it?! & I'm one of these hopeless 50% - you're right. & I've got some ?!@*£ .. interesting.

You did make me laugh outright .. poor old Thomas .. yeah - he'll have a force to reckon with! I suspect woman would prevail?!

Won't it be great to be a part of all & to be able to share together .. learn together, grow together .. be humble together, respect each other .. and it will certainly be the day.

Love it - thanks for the fun and laughs .. Mum will be pleased to have another hug - lots of sleeping today .. same to you from us .. xxoo Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Janice .. oh well you’re only just up one of those Roman roads .. not sure how you got further north? Horse trails?!!! It’s not far .. but far enough .. and separate countries .. perhaps once again?

Yes – you’re right – I couldn’t think of a good title .. so many women to remember Elizabeth Blackwell the first doctor in the States, let alone the European women - some came back .. Burns for example, as did Hunter .. but I think I’d come south too – Greece, the country of warmth and love for you .. I’d go there too!

Dot said...

Sorry your mother is having trouble with the cold. I have trouble with it myself, and it's miserable when you can't get warm. Hope things improve soon!

scheng1 said...

After reading this, I am very grateful for a chance of receiving a good education. so many women in different parts of the world do not even have enough to eat, much less learning to read and write.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Dot - good to seeyou .. it is just cold and my poor mother hasn't been at all well for 2 months, but seems better now - and we go on. I'm sure things will get better - all the best to you too .. have a good weekend - Hilary

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Scheng .. thanks for being here - yes - a good education certainly helps so much; and as you rightly say women and children don't get enough to eat, let alone having some formal education - that's why I like the eight Millennium Development Goals. All the best Hilary

Sara said...

Hilary -- I am pleased that your mom can hear better. I hope for both of you that it will warm up soon where you are.

Regarding this post, I found it fascinating to read about the struggle we women have had. Yet, change does happen, especially when women chose to be a bit uppity and not let traditional boundaries stop us.

BTW I read a fascinating book about William was rather graphic but interesting about early surgery and what he accomplished:~)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Sara .. it is a little warmer - and Mum seems to be adjusting to her room .. though it all takes time to sort everything out.

As you so rightly say - women are bucking the trend .. or doing things slightly differently and achieving new and interesting levels of learning or approaches to life.

Gosh - I'm so glad you read a book on William Hunter - I was amazed when I saw what he'd achieved .. yes, his sculptures, specimens and drawings were no doubt graphic - but they were needed so we could learn .. and children - boys and girls could be born more safely.

So pleased that you can understand better than me as you've read the book what he achieved for us medically .. things were theatrical in those days.

Great to hear from you - thank you ... have a good weekend - Hilary

T. Powell Coltrin said...

I believe men like St Thomas Aquinas (and there are modern men like this too) form these opinions and forced them on society because they know (or knew) the power of a woman and feel threatened. I will stop at that because I get very angry when I see how some countries allow their women to be treated. OH and how can that be when women usually out number men. It must be that the men somehow convince some of the women they (the men) have correct thinking - thereby the women involved do not revolt. Ok- now I'm stopping. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Teresa .. thanks for commenting anyway .. I'm glad I don't have to reply to too strong a feeling that you have, so do I!

But there were a few snippets that I thought worth highlighting about the course of education (or lack of) .. International Women's Day, the United National Millennium Development Goals, and Hunter - at least someone took some time to see how he was born!

Unfortunately life is not fair - nor actually helpful to itself .. leaving out 50% of the brainpower for so long .. some slipped the net .. and now more are doing so.

We need to do more to bring peace, accept and respect each other for our strengths and weaknesses .. and bring freedom of life in all forms to this wonderful world.

Thanks Teresa very much .. appreciate your thoughts .. Hilary

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

PS - the "word verifications" never cease to humor me. Today's verification was "gents." Coincidence? I think not. (smile)

Megan "JoyGirl!" Bord said...

Hilary, this post reminds me of Marianne Williamson's book "A Woman's Worth," which I found to be a valuable read. In it she discusses how the age of women is upon us, as the energy of the world shifts from male-dominated to a more feminine perspective. Her viewpoints were interesting to me, and while they were not necessary scholarly in approach, the book was rather uplifting and interesting in its own right.

In any case, I very much enjoyed reading this post. Thank you!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Megan .. yes her name keeps cropping up - and one day I'll get a copy and read it. So thanks for the reminder - interesting that it's not put across in a scholarly approach, but as uplifting.

Glad you enjoyed the information.

I couldn't think what you meant with 'word verifcations' .. now have just realised - that was fun! Co-incidence .. me too = thinks not!! (laughing quietly!). I too have on occasions had appropriate ones that have made me smile ..

good old 'gents' .. thanks for the laugh .. have a good week - Hilary

Paul Maurice Martin said...

It's a sad state of affairs that here in the US, Americans in general seem to use a smaller fraction of our brains than we used to whether male or female.

There's truly been a dumbing-down process over the decades during my lifetime. People generally have less of an ability to think critically, evaluate sources of information, speak and write with clarity, do math or science...

Our educational system is a mess, for one thing. I also think politics and the media have had major roles, reducing thought to slogans and sound bites. And probably the rise of the far religious right is implicated, especially with their heavy involvement in politics. Critical thinking sure doesn't seem to be one of their strengths...

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Paul ..I'm sure you're right - dialogue and discourse seem to have disappeared from our lives. The old days of sitting in the evening having serious discussions no longer seems to happen.

In general everyone is being drawn down to not thinking for themselves, or working anything out by themselves .. it is a sorry state of affairs.

I do wonder where it is leading us - who will be our Regulators, Lawyers, Doctors, Dentists etc in the future .. we seem to turn tools into dumbing gossips of which so much is so unnecessary.

I completely agree - thanks Paul for a very thoughtful comment - straight down the line.

Terro said...

In the U.S. more women are enrolled in colleges and universities than men today, and they graduate at higher rates. Girls generally do better academically than boys at every grade level. However, I have to agree with Paul Martin that the quality of education has been tarnished badly (not by girls) and the ability to think critically is woefully neglected in both genders. Feminism shares a great deal of the blame at the university level by promoting course offerings such as female/gender studies etc. that for the most part subject intellectual inquiry to ideology. The best course work occurs in classes where both genders cooperate and compete on individual merit and don't concern themselves with victimology.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Terro - good to see you. I think that's the same here - except I'm always encouraged when I do meet intelligent young people. It does seem that there's a lot of dumbing down for exams, and further study courses - there seems to be more acceptance of mediocrity, which as we all know is not a good thing.

Thanks so much for your pertinent comments and your knowledge of the system .. individualism is so important, as is free thinking etc ..

We all develop at different times in life, and exceptional talent is often found later .. which wouldn't have been tapped if those people hadn't started out and then been allowed to free flow and develop their natural skills within their discipline.

Thanks so much .. Hilary

Davina said...

You know, I don't recall ever hearing about International Women's Day until this week. Seems I learn of a new holiday every year.

This saga of women vs men seems to go on and on doesn't it? And yet, we have come a long way too. It's fascinating how society itself is an entity. Sometimes I feel we're all just players.

As for women vs men (maybe I'm being too simplistic here), but it seems men are seen as stronger and more resilient as they show their feelings less, while women are usually the opposite. Funny thing is; not acknowledging our feelings and repressing them, ends up being a huge weakness.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Davina .. I'm sure I've heard of it in the past .. but I guess it washes over us as information, as such.

You're so right the saga of women .. and yes we have certainly come a long way and are able to do most things now. Life is a game - it's when we learn how to play that can change it for us and we can develop and grow from it ..

Those differences go back so far in our history as humans .. hunter gatherers .. how the roles came about .. yet now we seem to be able to do either or, or both and enjoy the different skills. You're so right about not acknowledging our feelings and repressing them .. live life to the full.

Thanks for being here .. Hilary

Barb Hartsook said...

Hi Hilary. I agree with Paul to some extent, assessing our U.S. educational system. With several grandkids in public school and a granddaughter in college, we see first hand how thinking is no longer taught. We used to teach how to think, how to take in information, evaluate it as fact or opinion, test it (hypothesis and conclusion), and how to communicate through language and debate. Girls and boys both. (Inequities will always exist -- historically they were frightful. But what will they say about us in a couple hundred years?)

Today our children are being told WHAT to think, not HOW to think. And are then tested on how well they absorbed. We're dumbing down exponentially!

But this holiday is to celebrate woman. Halleluia!

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Barb .. Yes – your large family I’m sure will show you how they are progressing within the system: interesting even if somewhat worrying for the future. We just seem to believe what we’re told (well some of us) or being advised via tv programmes and magazines .. and not as you say talk about things. Everyone going around with music in their ears – no looking at nature, or taking in the natural colours, insects, learning about the trees etc – wondering .. what a brilliant word “to wonder” at this lovely life.

Communicating is not very good, we all take things from our own point of view .. not looking at the words from the other person’s view point or needs .. and so it goes on. As you say the educated world is becoming dumbed down .. such a pity and who knows what the future holds for this wonderful society of ours.

Thanks – yes a celebration for women, or recognition that we need to do more .. great to see you - Hilary

Liara Covert said...

I my new Transform your life book, half of the 730 inspirations are women. I offer glimpses into the lives of individuals who mentor and inspire my own growth and also offer insight for others. I marvel at how women have struggled to prove themselves when ultimately everyone and eveyrhting is equal and people are slowly remembering, but not as readily accepting this. Everything begins and ends in the mind and reflects your own state of self-rejection or degrees of unconditional acceptance. You can read more here:

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara - well done on the new publication – I’ll go across and read the notes now; I’ve got your Cosmic Synchroncity book here .. which I hope to be able to build in time to read later in the summer, along with other reading.

That’s great that half of the inspirations are from women .. and will make a very good read – I’m looking forward to it: you’ll open new insights. I know someone! somewhere asked me to do a post on women through the eras .. which I’ll get round to one day .. Britannia and Julian of Norwich spring to mind, but there must be lots of others. (Elizabeth I for instance!)

We have struggled and continue to struggle – when as you say ultimately we are all equal .. and that for all of us begins and ends in the mind. Thank you – it will be so interesting to learn more .. – all the best and have a good weekend now the publication is out ... Hilary

Liara Covert said...

Hilary, every woman is forging her own path as a kind of pioneer. The amazing research work you do and your choice to shre it with others is part of how you inspire men and women to build confidence and accept parts of themselves they may have temporarily forgotten.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Liara .. yes - we are pioneers forging ahead. Thank you for this comment - I'm really grateful .. I just love what I do .. makes the process enjoyable for me and reminds me of so many things I knew little, if anything, about. Your comments build my confidence and inspire me that I'm on the right track ..

Thanks for being here - always good to see you .. Hilary