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Education in the early modern era was gendered, meaning that boys and girls were provided with vastly different educational opportunities. In her book Better than Rubies: A History of Women’s Education (1978) Phyllis Stock discusses the general link between education and the societal role of women, and suggests (pp. 12–13) that education has a social, rather than an individual function. The aim of the educator is to produce an adult who will play a certain desired role in society . . . Naturally, in any time when men and women were viewed as totally different beings, the education provided them also differed. . . . Thus, the education of the two sexes reflects actual social and power relationships between men and women in the society. In this regard, a distinction needs to be made between formal and informal education. Barbara Whitehead (1999, p. x) makes the point that using the traditional, formal definition Chapte r 5 R Education for Women in the 16th and 17th Centuries 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 71 16/11/09 6:19 PM 72 THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE of education, especially in observing past eras, often excludes women and girls: Just as traditional history excluded women by defining the historical subject matter from a man’s perspective, the traditional definition of education would exclude early modern women from the history of education. Early modern education, defined primarily as formal training in schools and universities with an emphasis on the learning of Latin, would be out of reach for nearly all women of that period. For a broader understanding of the education of women and girls, Whitehead recommends including the different types of learning that women typically received in past eras, observing how these were linked to their social roles or vocations. Whitehead also provides (1999, p. xii) an example of what each gender was expected to learn in early modern Europe: An educated nobleman who sought access to the upper ranks of the royal bureaucracy was considered educated when he had a humanist education, whereas his wife, who could never aspire to such a position, would have been considered educated if she could sew, dance, play music, and run a household. Phyllis Stock (1978, pp. 13–14) divides women’s education into six general categories, many of which represent informal types of learning: (1)  informal moral education, usually combined with housewifery, provided by female members of the family or others in loco parentis; (2)  formal moral education, usually based in some knowledge of reading and provided by nuns or other women in schools and convents; 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 72 16/11/09 6:19 PM Education for Women in the 16th and 17th Centuries 73 (3)  vocational education in a trade, provided by parents, others in loco parentis, or husbands; (4)  intellectual education aimed at character formation, usually provided at home by parents or male tutors; (5)  intellectual education for the fulfilment of a particular role in society (court lady, mistress of the estate, first educator of the children) and supplemented with training in the social graces, provided by tutors, convents, schools; and (6)  intellectual training for individual fulfilment, a career, or both, usually provided in formal educational settings. Stock observes that when all social classes are considered, up to 90 percent of early modern women were illiterate. This is confirmed by David Cressy, who reports that illiteracy among women in London in 1600 was about 90 percent, but notes that this was a lower rate than anywhere else in England at the time and was comparable to the rates of illiteracy among labourers and husbandmen. By 1640, however, illiteracy among women in London appears to have declined to about 80 percent, and by the 1690s it had fallen to 52 percent, while remaining at much higher levels in rural areas. Cressy suggests that the reasons for the increase in literacy in the towns and cities may have included the benevolent patronage of servants and apprentices by their masters, and a tendency for the more literate to migrate to London in search of work (Cressy 1980, pp. 128–29). It was the exclusion of women from most kinds of work that most greatly influenced the type of education they received and the level of literacy they were able to attain. As we have seen in previous chapters, women’s roles, defined by men over many centuries, were generally limited to the private realm of the home, but, as Phyllis Stock (1978, p. 13) writes, there were also times when the patriarchal system...


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