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Disciplining Women?: Grammar, gender, and leisure in the works of Ellenor Fenn (1743–1813)

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On the basis of an analysis of works for children published by Ellenor Fenn (1743–1813) in the 1780s, an argument is offered concerning the significance of English grammar to the domestic education of elite boys and girls. The topic is contextualized in overviews of the high social value of grammar and of the maternal educator, idealized for her ‘civilizing’ influence, especially on men. Some elite mothers were criticized by Fenn and her contemporaries for preferring public life to domestic responsibility or for indulging their children. While acknowledging the difficulties of child-rearing and the challenges to women’s domestic authority, Fenn and others spell out the consequences of failing to train young males in particular. The author argues that educational toys and age-graded books like Fenn’s encouraged loving mothers to socialize their children while simul¬≠taneously displaying their wealth. Grammar, because of its associations with order, was central to this domestic curriculum. While not overtly challenging conventional gender roles, Fenn represented ‘sprightly’ young females not as intellectually superficial but as naturally quick to learn and playfully able to teach young males and females. Their pedagogical duties justified young women’s education and granted women educators domestic authority and public importance.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Toronto

Publication date: 01 January 2006

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