Science & Education

, Volume 23, Issue 3, pp 673–694 | Cite as

Carl Linnaeus, Erasmus Darwin and Anna Seward: Botanical Poetry and Female Education

  • Sam GeorgeEmail author


This article will explore the intersection between ‘literature’ and ‘science’ in one key area, the botanical poem with scientific notes. It reveals significant aspects of the way knowledge was gendered in the Enlightenment, which is relevant to the present-day education of girls in science. It aims to illustrate how members of the Lichfield Botanical Society (headed by Erasmus Darwin) became implicated in debates around the education of women in Linnaean botany. The Society’s translations from Linnaeus inspired a new genre of women’s educational writing, the botanical poem with scientific notes, which emerged at this time. It focuses in particular on a poem by Anna Seward and argues that significant problems regarding the representation of the Linnaean sexual system of botany are found in such works and that women in the culture of botany struggled to give voice to a subject which was judged improper for female education. The story of this unique poem and the surrounding controversies can teach us much about how gender impacted upon women’s scientific writing in eighteenth century Britain, and how it shaped the language and terminology of botany in works for female education. In particular, it demonstrates how the sexuality of plants uncovered by Linnaeus is a paradigmatic illustration of how societal forces can simultaneously both constrict and stimulate women’s involvement in science. Despite the vast changes to women’s access in scientific knowledge of the present day, this ‘fair sexing’ of botany illustrates the struggle that women have undergone to give voice to their botanical knowledge.


Eighteenth Century Scarlet Fever Sexual System Female Education Botanical Society 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of HertfordshireHatfieldUK

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