Discourses of Female Education in the Writings of Eighteenth-Century French Women

  • Jean Bloch


This essay focuses on printed contributions to the eighteenth-century French debate on women’s education. Following a brief discussion of two major male contributors to the field, Fénelon and Poulain de la Barre, it concentrates on a dozen female writers, most of whom published in the second half of the century. These women ranged from high-ranking aristocrats such as the Marchioness de Lambert and the Countess de Miremont to bourgeois women who carved out literary or political careers for themselves, such as Mme de Puisieux, Mme Le Prince de Beaumont, and Mme Roland. The essay proceeds chronologically in order to pinpoint changes occurring over the century. The case for women’s access to knowledge and culture had many adherents by the late seventeenth century but it was to be another two hundred years before lycées (grammar schools) were opened to girls in 1880. Taking up the cause, eighteenth-century French women struggled to move out of the shadow of influential male opinion, but were overtaken in their aspirations by the dramatic intellectual, cultural and political changes of the revolutionary period.


Eighteenth Century Seventeenth Century Private Tutoring French Revolution Female Education 
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  1. 7.
    For information on the both the salonnières and Fénelon’s stance, see Carolyn Lougee, Le Paradis des Femmes. Women, Salons, and Social Stratification in Seventeenth-Century France (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1976).Google Scholar
  2. 8.
    Madame de Lambert, Œuvres, ed. Robert Granderoute (Paris: Champion, 1990); Avis d’une mère à son fils, pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+); Avis d’une mère à sa fille, pp. ([0-9]+)–([0-9]+). Translations: The Works of the Marchioness de Lambert. Containing thoughts on various entertaining and useful subjects, reflections on education, on the writings of Homer and on various public events of the time (London: W. Owen, 1749). Further editions: 1756, 1769, J. Potts 1770, W. Owen, 1781; Advice of a Mother to her Daughter in The Young Lady’s Pocket Library, or Parental Monitor, 1790. Republished, with a new introduction by Vivien Jones (Thoemmes Press, 1995).Google Scholar
  3. 12.
    On Mme du Châtelet and other eighteenth-century French women involved in science, see Londa Schiebinger, The Mind has no Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (Cambridge, Mass and London: Harvard University Press, 1989).Google Scholar
  4. 21.
    In addition to the publications by Py and Trouille listed below, see Jean H. Bloch, ‘Women and the Reform of the Nation’, Women and Society in Eighteenth-Century France, ed. Eva Jacobs et al. (London: Athlone Press, 1979), pp. 3–18.Google Scholar

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© Jean Bloch 2005

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  • Jean Bloch

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