The forgotten women grammarians of eighteenth-century England

Date of Completion

January 2003


Women's Studies|Education, History of|Literature, English




This study examines the writing of the nine English women who published grammars in the late eighteenth century, focusing specifically on the educational philosophies their grammars consciously or unconsciously convey through both grammatical and ancillary materials. Ellin Devis, Dorothea DuBois, Mrs. M. C. Edwards, Mrs. Eves, Ellenor Fenn (aka Mrs. Teachwell and Mrs. Lovechild), Ann Fisher, Jane Gardiner, Blanche Mercy, and Mrs. Taylor together published a total of twelve discrete grammars, with over one hundred documented editions appearing well into the nineteenth century. Each woman grammarian advocates English as not only an appropriate, but also a critical subject of study for both schoolgirls and grown women, in order to foster their intellectual development and thus their ability to function independently and capably within and outside of their socially prescribed roles. ^ Three grammarians are treated in individual chapters: Ann Fisher and Lady Ellenor Fenn Norfolk were best-selling authors in their day, while Dorothea DuBois, daughter of the notorious Earl of Anglesey, was well known in both England and Ireland. These chapters are divided into four sections: first, a brief biography demonstrates how each grammarian's life and experiences are reflected in, and shape, her writing; then follows an articulation of the grammarian's educational philosophy, as it emerges through an examination of all pertinent works, not just the actual grammar text; the third section is an in-depth look at the grammar itself, with special attention to notes and examples; and the final section of each of these three chapters assesses the influence and critical reception of each grammarian's work during her own time, and, where possible, compares these views to modern scholarly opinion. ^ The remaining six grammarians are treated together in Chapter Five. All were schoolteachers whose careers flourished in the 1790s and beyond; their occupations form a distinct connection among their educational philosophies and the functions of their grammars. Opportunities for further research on all nine formerly neglected writers are discussed in an Afterword, supported by an annotated bibliography of primary source materials as well as a listing of grammatical works authored by English women in the nineteenth century. ^