History 104: Western Civilization since 1648
Lecture: Science and Sentiment

The Salons

While the figures we study in the Enlightenment tend to be male, without women-run salons the ideas of the Enlightenment would have remained only among elite intellectuals.

Salons were informal gatherings of intellectuals. Originating in France in the 17th century, they tended to be run by women who opened their homes and parlors for discussions lasting several hours. As a forum for both aristocrats (many of the salon originators were upper-class) and middle-class scholars, it was one of the few places where the classes mixed.


It was at the salons that the ideas of the culture and civilization were transmitted. One reason was the lack of formal education provided to women at the time, which left most of them unable to read or write Latin, the language of science and ideas. Such women demanded simplification and translations of the major scientific and philosophical works of the day. Because of them and their salons, most major works were translated into vernacular languages (most commonly French, English, or German). After a while, even doctors began writing in French! Please peruse some document exerpts about the salons.

From France, the salon idea spread to other nations, though the role of women differed in each. In Spain, for example, male and female salons were separate. But the idea of female participation was encouraged by Enlightenment thinkers, most of whom believed in mothers as the first teachers of civilization.Wollstonecraft

The frustration of women with their poor education also was part of the work of Mary Wollstonecraft. (This document isn't actually assigned reading until we get to the French Revolution.)

book Workbook document :Wollstonecraft's
A Vindication of the
Rights of Woman (1792)

Wollstonecraft claimed that society degraded women. Better education would focus on making women into true adults, and thus entitled to full rights. The popular training of women as "ladies" hurt family and society; females needed to be "women". The basis of her argument was that there was no difference of nature or virtue between male and female. She was a radical.


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