Hello, folks! It ’tis the beginning of March. And if you live under a rock, or in another country and did’t know, March is women’s history month in the US.
If you also did’t know, I’m obsessively obsessed with history. To the extent I would gladly waste time and money on getting a doctorate in history. Except I have common sense, and won’t be pursuing that path at the moment.
I’ve always thought that other people weren’t interested in hearing me rant about history. But after a lot of doubt, I finally posted this post, on the Civil War, and y’all seemed super interested in what I had to say.
So this month, every Tuesday, you’ll be receiving a post about a woman in history that more people should hear about.
Before you get on your high horse, my point with these posts isn’t to show that women should rule history, my point is that the world is a better place when men and women work together, just like Adam and Eve worked together in the garden. So are you ready? I am, so let’s get started!
The year was 1745, and a little girl came into the world. A girl who would grow into a woman. And this woman wasn’t afraid to voice her opinions or stand against society’s cultural bounds. Known for her memory, wit, and sharp tongue, this little girl grew with a thirst for knowledge. A thirst her mother praised and fed.
Hannah More was known through her teen years for her intellectual gifts. She was able to speak French, she studied Spanish, Italian, and Latin, spent most of her time reading, and attended lectures and the theater.
But her favorite intellectual employment? Writing.
Now, everyone says that in the 1700s, men suppressed women writers, so there weren’t any. My friend, set down your man-written history book, and dive into biographies and autobiographies of the 1700s, and you will meet Hannah More, Maria Edgeworth, and Phillis Wheatley, all geniuses in their own rights.
But you’re right. Everyone is right. As More said herself, the women writer “will have to encounter the mortifying circumstances of having her sex always taken into account; and her highest exertions will probably be received with the qualified approbation, that it is really extraordinary.”
Ah, but like many of the women that we should admire in history, More turned that obstacle into an opportunity. Her goal was to succeed in getting esteem, and she was blessed with a natural talent and an eloquence that influenced her entire culture.
At age eighteen, she wrote a play called “The Search after Happiness,” which sold 10,000 copies by the 1780s. More went to London, where she spent her time with the literary elite, which in turn, happened to be men, though she also became a prominent member of the Bluestockings. The Bluestockings were an elite society of women who engaged in intellectual conversations, as well as polite conversation.
More wrote a tragedy, called Percy, which produced by the Covent Garden Theater, and later was produced at theaters across England, in France and in Austria. The famous actress Sarah Siddons played the leading role of Elwina, and Percy was even produced in Vienna, where Mozart might have been in the audience, a copy of Percy having been found among his books upon his death.
Despite the success that came to Hannah, in 1785, she left the glitz and glamor of social life to devote her to writing religious tracts, short stories, teaching girls at her sisters’ school, and standing up for a larger cause than the theater.
More was behind men such as Henry Thornton, William Wilberforce, and other men in the Clapham Sect. Men that would change the England as it was, by the help of Hannah More’s fiction works.
More remained single her whole life, though she was engaged before her literary works took off. Her fiancé, however, backed out of the engagement three times. More resigned herself to her single lifestyle, and soon realized that by being single, she was able to devote her time and energy to important things, such as writing and abolition.
In 1808, More published a novel anonymously. Within a few days, the first print was sold out. The public wanted to know the author, and guess what? The publishers caved, much to More’s dismay, and the whole world knew who wrote “Coelebs in Search of a Wife.”
Like most authors in history, More struggled with illnesses, mostly linked to her mental health. Critique to her work often brought on spells of intense, debilitating illness. But More’s sisters and friends rallied around her when she struggled, and she came out of her depression with a new burst of energy to pursue her passions.
More’s last years were spent in writing, and ended her life as a successful woman, standing against culture in her faith, standing against culture in her singleness, and in her passion for educating women.
Having read More’s plays, I can understand why the public fell in love with them. I can also see how in a world that valued wit and intellect, More was able to overcome the fact that she was a woman, and be able to engage in intellectual conversation with the literary elite of that time.
To be honest, her life astonishes and encourages me. If a woman could have done this in the 1700s, why can’t both men and women do it now? Why can’t we stand strong, face the world head on, and show people that history can be shaped by words, by art, and by those who put their trust in God.