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UNIT 17: Ideas Shape the World

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PERSPECTIVES ON THE PAST

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Transcript of Audio Clip

Sue Peabody, Washington State University, Vancouver

Women's voices constitute a kind of "hidden history" in the history of ideas. For centuries, philosophers and historians ignored women's experience, assuming it was trivial and unimportant in comparison to the achievements of men.

But one of hallmarks of Enlightenment thought was to be skeptical of old, received traditions. Philosophers like Locke and Rousseau, argued that people were not bound by some inherent nature, but could be improved through education.

Enlightenment thinkers' willingness to break with the past, and challenge old ideas in public forums, created a space for new, feminist thinkers to break out.

In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published her most important work: A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, which called for women and men to be educated equally. She advocated a national system of co-educational day schools where boys and girls would learn together to become active, participatory citizens.

Although Wollstonecraft's calls for educational reform brought no immediate results during her lifetime, she inspired later feminists across the Atlantic, like Elizabeth Cady Stanton. By the end of the nineteenth century, universal public education for boys and girls had become the norm in both Europe and America.



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