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The First Dutch Feminist Tract?

Anna Maria van Schurman’s discussion of women’s aptitude for the study of arts and sciences
  • Caroline Van Eck
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Part of the Archives Internationales D’Histoire Des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 146)

Abstract

In 1641 the Leiden publishing house of Elsevier published a discourse in Latin by Anna Maria van Schurman on the question of whether women were suited for study and the practice of science. The full title on the title page reads Nobiliss. Virginis Annae Mariae A Schurman Dissertatio, de Ingenii Muliebris ad Doctrinam, & meliores Litteras aptitudine: a dissertation on the aptitude of the female mind for science and letters. In the text itself, the title is given somewhat differently: Problema practicum, num foeminae christianae conveniat studium litterarum: a problem, relating to active life, on the question of whether the study of letters is fitting for a Christian woman.

Keywords

Argumentation Strategy Title Page Syllogistic Reasoning Major Term Minor Term 
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References

  1. 1.
    An earlier version of this chapter appeared as ‘Anna Maria van Schurman’s verhouding tot de wetenschap in haar vroege en late werk’ which I published together with Angela Roothaan in the Algemeen Nederlands Tijdschrift voor Wijsbegeerte 82 (1990) no. 3, pp. 194–211.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See the preface to the Dissertatio (1641) written by Johannes van Beverwijck, p. 6. This preface dates from 1640. It is not clear from this whether he is referring to a pirate edition or a manuscript; he mentions a version produced in Paris in the previous year, 1639.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On Marie de Gournay see Schiff, La fille d’alliance (1910) and Wessel, ‘Het “feminisme” van Marie de Gournay’ (1987), which incorporates a Dutch translation of De Gournay’s treatise.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    In a letter to André Rivet, dated VIII Idus Martis 1638 (8–3–1638), Van Schurman calls her ‘nobilissimum Gornacensium decus’, Dissertatio (1641) p. 48.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    On Van Beverwijck see Van Gemert, ‘The power of the weaker vessels’ (1994) pp. 39–50 and Niekus Moore, ‘Not by birth, but by nature’ (1994).Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    ‘De deuren staen hier op van PALLAS binnen Sael. Haer schatten sijn gemeen, het decksel is verdweenen, En dat verborgen was is yder een verscheenen. Ghy die een voncxken hebt noch van een hooger moet, Ick segh van ons geslacht, als wel een slave doet: En sijt soo besigh niet in ‘t cieren en pareren, Of aen u vluchtigh haer, of aen u schoone kleeren’. Van Beek, Verbastert christendom (1992) pp. 62–63, quoted from ‘Op Het Sermoen’ (‘On the Sermon’) (1636)11. 108–114.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    As far as I have been able to establish, only one edition ever appeared. [Editors’ note: the Dissertatio was incorporated in the various editions of the Opuscula. In 1659 an English translation was published under the title The Learned Maid. For recent literature on the Dissertatio see Irwin, ‘From feminism to pietism’ (1977) and idem, ‘Star of Utrecht’ (1980); Gössmann, Archiv I [1984]; Rang, ‘Een maeght’ (1986).]Google Scholar
  8. 8.
    Dissertatio (1641) pp. 9–14.Google Scholar
  9. 9.
    Ibid., pp. 14–36.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    ‘II. Argumentum à proprio Subjecti. Cui naturâ inest scientiarum artiumque desiderium, ei conveniunt scientiae & artes: Atqui Foeminae naturâ inest scientiarum artiumque desiderium. Ergo. Majoris ratio patet, quia Natura nihil facit frustra. Minor probatur, quia quod inest toti speciei; inest etiam singulis individuis. Atqui omnis homo (ut experte statuit Philosophus Metaphysic. lib. I. cap. 2.) naturâ scire desiderat.’ Dissertatio (1641) pp. 1516.Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    ‘II. Objectio. Cuicunque animus ad studia non inclinat, ei non conveniunt studia: Atqui foeminis animus ad studia non inclinat. Ergo. Majorem probant, quia nihil agendum est invita (ut ajunt) Minervâ. Minorem probabunt ex ipsa consuetudine; quia rarissimè foeminae ad studia animum applicant. Respondemus ad majorem, dicendum fuisse; Cuicunque omnibus legitime tentatis mediis animus ad studia non inclinat, ei non conveniunt studia. Alioque negatur consequentia. Ad minorem dicimus; non posse quemquam de nostra erga studia inclinatione recte judicare, priusquam nos optimis rationibus ac mediis ad studia capessenda instigaverit: simulque eorum dulcedinis gustum aliquem dederint; quamquam interea exempla nobis non desunt quae contrarium verum esse evincunt.’ Dissertatio (1641) pp. 32–33.Google Scholar
  12. 12.
    For example Dissertatio (1641) p. 14: ‘I. Argumentum ex proprio Subjecti’; p. 21: ‘VII. Argumentum à genere Praedicati seu scientiae’; p. 30: ‘I. Argumentum ex parte subjecti’.Google Scholar
  13. 13.
    ‘I. Argumentum ex proprio Subjecti. Cuicunque naturâ indita sunt principia, seu potentiae principiorum omnium artium, ac scientiarum, ei conveniunt omnes artes ac scientiae: Atqui foeminis naturâ indita sunt principia seu potentiae principiorum omnium artium ac scientiarum. Ergo Foeminis conveniunt omnes artes ac scientiae. Propositio probatur: quia cui conveniunt seu potentiae principiorum, ei convenit notitia conclusionum, quae sua natura ex iisdem educuntur. Assumptio probari potest, tum ex proprio formae huius Subjecti, sive rations humanae: tum ex ipsis actibus seu effectis, siquidem foeminas actu scientias & artes qualibet addiscere manifestum est: actus verb nulli sine principiis esse possunt.’ Dissertatio (1641) pp. 14–15.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    From the argumentation of this syllogism it emerges that she defines the ‘principal sciences’ as the study of the Bible and theology; it is therefore reasonable to assume that the ‘auxiliary sciences’ refer to branches of learning that are of assistance in this: Hebrew, Greek, Latin, history and so forth. See Dissertatio (1641) p. 20: ‘Minor probatur e6, quod foeminae Christianae convenit studium, sive assidua ac seria meditatio verbi divini, notitia Dei (…)’.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    ‘I. Argumentum ex parte subjecti. Cuicunque est ingenium imbecilius, ei non convenit studium Litterarum; Atqui Foeminae est ingenium imbecilius. Ergo. Majorera probabunt, quia ad studium Litterarum requiritur ingenium firmum ac validum: nisi frustra laborare velimus: aut in periculum incidere arrosias tes Dianoias. Minorem in confesso ponent. Respondemus ad Majorem; limitatione nostra tales eximi, quae ob imbecillitatem ingenii ad studia sint prorsus ineptae; quando mediocria saltem ingenia hic requiri statuimus. deinde dicimus non semper heroica ingenia ad studia praecise esse necessaria: siquidem & doctorum virorum numerum ex medio-cribus passim colligi videmus (…)’. Dissertatio (1641) pp. 31–32.Google Scholar
  16. 16.
    ‘III.Objectio. Quemcunque destituunt media ad studia Litterarum necessaria, ei non conveniunt studia Litterarum: Atqui Foeminas destituunt media &c. Ergo. Major non est controversa. Minorem probare conantur, quia non dantur hodie Academiae & Collegia in quibus sese excercitare queant. Sed consequentiam hanc negamus, sufficit enim ut sub ductu Parentum, aut privati cujusdam praecep-toris se domi exercitent.’ Dissertatio (1641) p. 33.Google Scholar
  17. 17.
    ’V. Objectio. Cuicunque ad vocationem suam excolendam pauca scire satis est, ei non convenit enkuklopaideia, neque sublimior scientiae gradus: Atqui foeminae ad vocationem suam excolendam pauca scire, &c. Ergo. Majoris consequentiam probant; quia supervacua, aut à vocatione sua aliena agere nemini convenit. Minorem probabunt; quia scilicet foeminae vocatio arctis omnino limitibus includitur; nimirum vitae privatae sive oeconomicae terminis. Omissa Majore. Ad Minorem respondemus, ambiguitatem esse in vocibus vocationis: nam si hic intelligunt vocationem vitae privatae, quae publicis muniis oponitur, dicimus eadem ratione omnibus etiam viris vitam privatam degentibus enkuklopaideian seu sublimiore scientiam gradum denegari (…).’ Dissertatio (1641) pp. 34–35.Google Scholar
  18. 18.
    Cf. the introductory chapter by Mirjam de Baar and Brita Rang in this book.Google Scholar
  19. 19.
    Dissertatio (1641) p. 48; this letter from Van Schurman to Rivet is dated Pridie Idus Martis 1638’ (14–3–1638). Elsewhere in this book, Brita Rang examines at length the correspondence between Anna Maria van Schurman and Rivet on the theme of women and learning.Google Scholar
  20. 20.
    Dissertatio (1641) pp. 47–48.Google Scholar
  21. 21.
    The terms ‘rhetoric’ and ‘rhetorical’ are used here only in the technical sense of the art of persuasive speech and writing that was developed by Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian in classical times and rediscovered in the Renaissance, after which it became one of the most important elements of education throughout Europe until the nineteenth century. Vickers, In Defence (1989) pp. 255–256.Google Scholar
  22. 22.
    Dissertatio (1641) pp. 17–18.Google Scholar

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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1996

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  • Caroline Van Eck

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