Early Feminists and the Education Debates: England, France, Germany 1760-1810

By Deiulio, Laura | German Quarterly, July 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Early Feminists and the Education Debates: England, France, Germany 1760-1810


Deiulio, Laura, German Quarterly


Sotiropoulos, Carol Strauss. Early Feminists and the Education Debates: England, France, Germany 1760-1810. Madison: Farleigh Dickinson University Press, 2007. 319 pp. S52.50 hardcover.

Early Feminists and the Education Debates is a lucid and well-written book that examines treatises on education written by both men and women in Germany, France, and England during the late 18th century. In her introduction, Sotiropoulos convincingly presents this time period as deserving particular attention because of the paradoxes that emerge from it. The rise of the middle class, not to mention the increase in literacy and the demands for human equality that arose from the French Revolution or the antislavery movement, opened the door to greater educational opportunities for women. And yet in the treatises she examines, Sotiropoulos discovers qualified arguments and ambivalent calls for women's education. These arguments, read by Sotiropoulos in a sensitive, theoretically informed manner, persuasively support her conclusion that the more radical demands resulted only in compromise and that ultimately, reform in women's education occurred in "glacial shifts" (227).

Sotiropoulos does the reader a valuable service by presenting a cross section of both better-known and lesser-known writers from the three relevant countries. She begins with Sophie von La Roche in Germany, and then examines Talleyrand, Condorcet and women petitioners in France. Moving to England, she investigates Catharine Macaulay and Mary Wollstonecraf t, concluding with a second study of German authors, namely, Theodor von Hippel, Amalia Holst, and Betty Gleim. This approach allows for a broad spectrum of voices to be heard, underscoring the contradictions and compromises in educational views of the period.

The separate chapters on each national tradition allow the author to locate each writer clearly within his or her historical context. A most useful innovation is the "window" on education presented before the chapter on each country. These brief sections summarize the education debate, bringing the reader rapidly up-to-date before close analyses of specific texts are offered in the following chapter. These "windows" are an elegant solution to the problem that arises when an author wishes to present a broad general context without compromising the specificity of her findings on an individual text.

Sotiropoulos's arguments are enriched by the fact that she evaluates genre expectations and rhetorical strategies, not merely accepting authors' contentions at face value. …

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