- Introduction:Women in the American Philosophical Tradition 1800–1930
The problem of our age is womanhood . . . it will take
the next century to work it out as in its inner meaning,
and in references to the eternal principles which alone
will lead us to its final and triumphant solution.—Ednah Dow Cheney, "Reign of Womanhood"
Why this special issue of Hypatia? Because we believe that the American philosophical tradition and women's contributions to it have shaped philosophy in ways that are significant and worth further exploration. This issue is designed to increase our readers' familiarity with women philosophers in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America, and in so doing, point to a genealogy of women's thought that is little recognized—a genealogy that could illuminate the path that philosophy might take in the future.
While Jane Addams has gained much-deserved attention in recent years, the canonical figures in American philosophy are overwhelmingly male.1 We are able to recite the names of men in American philosophy readily: John Dewey, William James, Charles Sanders Peirce, Josiah Royce, and though not born in the Americas, George Santayana and Alfred North Whitehead. Less in the foreground are the transcendentalists: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Frederick Henry Hedge, Theodore Parker, Henry David Thoreau, and Amos Bronson Alcott. Margaret Fuller is sometimes remembered as a member of this group as well. The political philosophers: Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison, and the philosophers of religion—William Penn and Jonathan Edwards—are generally found in the canons of other disciplines.
As women scholars have proved over the course of the past thirty years, the absence of women's names on the list of canonical figures in a given discipline sometimes has little or no relationship to their high level of scholarly activity or influence among their male colleagues. A whole body of research has begun to [End Page viii] grow in this area. Histories of women in the discipline, interpretations of their work, and an increasing number of editions of republished texts all attest to the number and value of the works of women philosophers of the past. Women in the history of early modern philosophy were read by some of our greatest American feminist intellectuals, facilitating a genealogy of women's thought. The English feminists Mary Astell (1666-1731) and Catherine McCauley (1731-1791), for example, were read by Mary Wollstonecraft (also English; 1759-1797; see Wollstonecraft, 1995, pp. 155, 188, 225; see also Waithe, 1991 p. 164), who was read by Margaret Fuller (American; 1810-1850; see Kelley, 1994, pp. 267-70), who in turn was read by scores of American intellectuals and activists, influencing life here immensely. This special issue, then, is one of many efforts to fill in the gaps created by what could rightfully be called "masculinist" philosophical history.
Although women had been a part of the tradition of philosophical thinkers and writers in the new nations of the Americas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, theirs was largely an unrecognized contribution. But in nineteenth-century America, philosophy by women leapt forward as it had in Europe in the seventeenth century. With at least some awareness of their intellectual heritage, nineteenth-century American women philosophers carried on the inquiries of their foremothers. New issues of the nineteenth century, of course, formed particular interests in philosophy. And it is inevitable that the philosophy of the nineteenth century spilled into the twentieth, since some issues were not yet resolved, and since some philosophers' lives bracketed the centuries. The historical review that follows outlines women's contributions to American philosophy, beginning with the earliest waves of European immigration to this country. Thus it traces American women's philosophical thought and provides a context for understanding the development of nineteenth-century women's philosophy.
The Earliest American Women Philosophers
Both the North American colonies and Mexico in the seventeenth century were elevated by the unique contributions of two women poets, Anne Bradstreet (1612-72) and Sor Juana Inéz Inés de la Cruz (1648-95). Both have been labeled "the tenth muse" and "the first American feminist" by those familiar with their...