Was this really a Women’s Library?

A Group Portrait of John, 14th Baron, and his family in the breakfast room at Compton Verney by Johann Zoffany, c1766. By courtesy of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles.

Compton Verney and Women

‘Your business chiefly is to read Men, in order to make yourselves agreeable and useful.’

The Reverend James Fordyce, Sermons to Young Women (1766)

For the eighteenth-century English woman, reading was a political act. As literacy increased, debates opened up about what women should be allowed to read. Would an educated woman make a better wife? Or would exposure to new ideas make her dangerously discontented?

The Bluestockings — a community of influential women who promoted female education –would have taken issue with Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women. They were clear that there was far more to read about than men. Throughout the mid eighteenth century heated literary discussions were held over the fashionable new beverage – tea – and women such as Hannah More and Anna Barbauld discussed literature, science, philosophy and politics. Compton Verney had strong links with the Bluestockings. The Women’s Library features books by several well-known Bluestockings. Can you find Elizabeth Montagu and Elizabeth Carter?

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