Eliza Gould, Letter to the Cambridge Intelligencer on Wollstonecraft and Women's Education, 1795
Eliza Gould and Benjamin Flower commenced their first correspondence c. March 1795, while she was conducting a school for girls in Southmolton, Devon, and serving as a distributor of his newspaper, the Cambridge Intelligencer, an activity that led to a level of public condemnation sufficient to force the closing of her school by late summer 1795. Her letter below reflects her strong commitment at that time (and for the remainder of her life, as evidenced in her role in the early education of her two daughters, Eliza and Sarah Flower) to women's education, equality, and political reform, as well as her identification with the controversial feminist figure, Mary Wollstonecraft. The ideals of women's education and equality can be found as well on this site in certain selections from Mary Scott, Mary Steele, and Mary Hays. Gould's letter also hints at the attraction she already felt for Flower, whom she would not meet in person until 1799. In the meantime, she would become engaged to John Feltham only a few months after this letter.
For more on the life of Eliza Gould Flower, click here for her entry in the Biographical Summaries; for a selection of her correspondence, click here.
“To the Editor of the Cambridge Intelligencer,” 20 June 1795, signed “Eliza.”
I beg leave to observe to you, Mr. Editor, that I am an avowed admirer of your Paper, and that I peruse it, every Monday morning, with as much pleasure, as I ever experienced on the receipt of a love letter from any of my adoring swains.
In a political view, I have often declared you to be “the man after my own heart;” and have no less frequently gloried in those sentiment of liberty, which in the most perilous moments you have dared openly to avow: sentiments, that will reflect lasting honour on the breast which cherished them.
The motive, which induces me to address you at present is simply this; to express my astonishment at your remarks in your paper of Saturday last, on the exclusion of the female patriots from the French Convention; in which you declare, (in contradiction to our female advocate, Mrs. Wollstoncraft [sic], whose name, and work on “the Rights of Women,” deserve to be handed down to the latest posterity) that “God and nature never appear to have designed us for political societies, or public pursuits.” In reply to this argument I would ask, whether the Deity has formed us rational beings, and endued us with faculties capable of improvement? If you admit these positions, say, why should the exertion of these faculties be limited? Why should our sex be condemned to exercise them only in those trifling employments which men have assigned us, as the chief end of our existence?
For my own part, Sir, I feel that I have a soul: or, in other words, intellectual faculties, which, but for the present plan of female education, might have been much more expanded and improved. I am convinced that the mind is naturally led to the acquisition of knowledge; and that a thirst for it is wisely implanted in the human constitution by the great Author of our being. Whatever mode of education, therefore, is adopted, which impedes the mind in its attainment of knowledge, or confines it within too narrow limits, must be subversive of the benevolent intentions of the Deity, who has implanted in woman, no less a capacity for improvement in literature, and science, than in those, who so arrogantly assume to themselves the proud title of “Lords of the Creation.”
To you, ye friends of universal knowledge, who are daily advancing in the most sublime pursuits, who feel the pleasures arising from a well cultivated understanding, and are employed in the delightful task of “pouring fresh instruction o’er the mind,” do I now address myself; beseeching you, in the name of every intelligent individual of our sex, and as a disciple of the justly-admired Wollstoncraft, to unite your laudable efforts to expand and adorn the female mind. Oh! aid them, in every ennobling science to hold converse with yourselves; in such pursuits, to “grow familiar day by day;” till at length they are taught to act upon your plan and form to yours the relish of their souls.
Below is Flower’s response to the above letter, published just beneath Eliza's in the paper for that day:
After acknowledging our obligations to the Authoress of the above sprightly and elegant Epistle, for the favourable opinion expressed in so flattering a manner at its commencement, we hope she will not cease to entertain that opinion, if we presume to confirm the sentiment she controverts, and to suspect, that in her zeal to maintain the Rights of her Sex, she has not perfectly conceived our meaning. So far from insinuating, even the in the slightest degree, that the Female Sex “have not faculties capable of improvement, or that those faculties should be exercised in trifling employments,” or restrained “from improvement in science and literature,” we expressly hinted the importance of an understanding suitably cultivated, without which no female can be long respected, or preserve that influence in society which we, not improperly, termed irresistible. The whole of the argument turns upon these points – Whether each sex has not some characteristic or peculiar employments or pursuits and, as it would be completely ridiculous in a man to pretend to rival a woman in many respects, is it perfectly consistent in a woman to claim EQUALITY in all, except where she claims SUPERIORITY? On this view of the subject, and while feeling our individual inferiority to our fair correspondent, (judging of her abilities from her letter) we hope she will not pronounce us guilty of an unpardonable sin, if we again venture, not positively to determine, but “almost to question, whether the irresistible influence acquired by beauty, amiableness, and an understanding suitably cultivated, is not more engaging, and attendant with greater advantages to the female sex, than any they might acquire by being members of political societies, or following pursuits for which GOD and NATURE appear never to have designed them.”