Rare Books

Page contents > Rare Books | 17th Century | 18th Century | 19th Century

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These materials are among the oldest in LSE and The Women's Library @ LSE collections, and reflect the changing historical attitudes towards women's role in society from the 16th century through to the early 20th century. Due to their age, many of these works are quite fragile; the digitisation allows them to be widely accessible for the first time. The works are also fully text-searchable so that users can find the resources they need quickly.

17th Century

The books below were all written during the 17th century, and cover a range of topics portraying women in very different ways. Some were intended to be read by women, such as 'Countrey Contentments' and 'The Queen-Like Closet', which include recipes for cordials and medicines, and other household matters such as laundry and baking. Other works go on to address standards of behaviour, such as in 'A Serious Proposal to the Ladies' and 'A Discourse of Women'.

Other works in this section were written and published around the time of the English Civil War, and show women in a more active light, petitioning Parliament for the cessation of hostilities.

Notable works in terms of women’s rights and their position in society include Joseph Swetnam’s infamous 'Arraignment of Women', which severely criticised all women and provoked immediate responses from women, one of which is included in this 19th century facsimile of the original work. 'The Woman as Good as the Man', is an early argument for equality between the sexes, and 'The Lawes Resolutions of Women's Rights' clearly articulates the legal position of women in the second half of the 17th century.

Countrey Contentments, or the English Huswife (1623) - Gervase Markham

A Discovery of Six Women Preachers (1641) - Anonymous

The Arraignment of Lewd, Idle, Froward, and Unconstant Women (1615; reprinted 1807) - Joseph Swetnam

A True Copy of the Petition of the Gentle-women & Trades-men Wives in and about the city of London (1642) - Anonymous

The Mid-wives' Just Petition (1643) - Anonymous

The Humble Petition of many Thousands of Wives and Matrons of the city of London (1643) - Anonymous

A Discourse of Women, shewing their Imperfections Alphabetically (1662) - Jacques Olivier

The Queen-Like Closet (1675) - Hannah Wolley

The Woman as Good as the Man, or, the Equality of Both Sexes (1677) - Francois Poulain de La Barre; A. L. (translator)

The Lawe's Resolutions of Women's Rights (1632) - T. E. (Thomas Edgar?)

The Ladies' Dictionary (1694) - N. H.

A Serious Proposal to the Ladies (1695) - Mary Astell

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18th Century

The 18th century saw the rise of the novel, and with it female novelists. Included below is a collection of works by Aphra Behn, who is widely held to be England's first female literary writer, and 'Evelina' by Frances Burney, who would later inspire Jane Austen. Women began to write with voices of authority, as evidenced by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's writings on Turkey, and Mary Wollstonecraft's seminal 'A Vindication of the Rights of Women'. 'Woman not Inferior to Man', published 50 years prior to 'A Vindication' actually goes as far as to argue women's superiority over men.

The education of women was also given greater consideration in this century, with Hannah More publishing 'Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education' in 1799. Prior to that, works such as 'Hints for a System of Education, for a Female Orphan-House', and 'The Oeconomy of Charity' (an appeal to ladies to set up more Sunday schools), demonstrate a greater role for women in education, both as educators and pupils.

Conduct books continued to be published throughout this century, with 'English housewifry', 'The Female Aegis' and Wollstonecraft's 'Thoughts on the Education of Daughters' given as examples here.

All the Histories and Novels written by the late ingenious Mrs. Behn (1718) - Aphra Behn

Woman not Inferior to Man (1739) - 'Sophia'

An Enquiry into [...] the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriages (1753) - Henry Stebbing; Mary Cooper

Letters of the Right Honourable Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1763) - Lady Mary Wortley Montagu

English Housewifry, exemplified in above Four Hundred and Fifty Receipts (1764) - Elizabeth Moxon

The History of Women [vol 1] (1782) - William Alexander

The History of Women [vol 2] (1782) - William Alexander

Evelina [vol 1] (1784) - Frances Burney

Evelina [vol 2] (1784) - Frances Burney

Evelina [vol 3] (1784) - Frances Burney

Thoughts on the Education of Daughters (1787) - Mary Wollstonecraft

The Oeconomy of Charity (1787) - Sarah Trimmer

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792) - Mary Wollstonecraft

Hints for a System of Education for a Female Orphan House (1793) - Joseph Cooper Walker; Mrs. Peter Latouche

The Female Aegis (1798) - J. Ginger

Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin [vol 1] (1798) - Mary Wollstonecraft

Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin [vol 2] (1798) - Mary Wollstonecraft

Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin [vol 3] (1798) - Mary Wollstonecraft

Posthumous Works of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin [vol 4] (1798) - Mary Wollstonecraft

Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education [vol 1] (1799) - Hannah More

Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education [vol 2] (1799) - Hannah More

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19th Century

The industrialisation of Britain's economy during the 19th century prompted many writers to consider the working conditions that were being faced by women and children during the course of their employment. Included in the selection below is an inquiry into the working conditions of women coal bearers in Scotland, and 'The Pageant', a series of short stories encouraging readers to consider the welfare of the people (notably women) they employ.

Women's rights continue to be discussed in this century, with calls for greater equality between the sexes in politics, domestic life, and in education. A notable work is 'Every Woman's Book, or, What is Love?', which advocates the use of birth control and for women to take greater ownership of their sexuality - this work was published nearly a century before Marie Stopes' seminal 'Married Love'.

Also included in this section is the 20th Century work 'A Room of One's Own' - Virginia Woolf's extended essay on women writers which calls for better education for women.

The Female Revolutionary Plutarch [vol 1] (1806) - Stewarton

The Female Revolutionary Plutarch [vol 2] (1806) - Stewarton

The Female Revolutionary Plutarch [vol 3] (1806) - Stewarton

An Inquiry into the Condition of those Women who carry Coals Underground (1812) - Robert Bald

Appeal of one Half of the Human Race, Women, against the Pretensions of the other Half, Men (1825) - William Thompson; Anna Wheeler; Richard Taylor; John Stuart Mill

Every Woman's Book; or, What is Love? (1828) - Richard Carlile

The Pageant; or, Pleasure and its Price (1843) - Francis Edward Paget

Biography, Notes, and Political Letters of Frances Wright D'Arusmont (1844) - Frances Wright

The Character of Woman (1848) - Richard Cobbold

Introductory Lectures, delivered at Queen's College, London (1849) - F. D. Maurice

A Room of One's Own (1929) - Virginia Woolf

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In this collection...