On the occasion of the International Women’s Day

Have you seen a little Poem called the Female advocate? The Author (a Woman) sent me a copy, tho I do not know her. She seems to write with some ease and spirit. Mrs Chapone and I are under infinite obligations to her, for ranking us with Phillis Wheatley the black girl.

So delightfully writes Hannah More to Frances Reynolds in 1774 (MS Hyde 25 (3), Houghton Library, Harvard University). (Google assumes that I wanted to search for Hannah Montana, which would obviously be fine by me for another post but not quite what I had in mind for this one.) The poem she refers to is the Female Advocate: a poem occasioned by reading Mr Duncombe’s Feminead by Mary Scott, which celebrates the learned Bluestocking womenMoira Ferguson has characterised Scott’s poem as “the first distinctively feminist response by a woman in the late eighteenth century to the mid-century burgeoning of sympathetic male interest in women authors”. Hannah More, an abolitionist and philanthropist herself (although perhaps not at this point? I am only a More dilettante, so I do not know), is ironically underwhelmed by the diverse range of women whom Scott praises. I wonder if she was aware that ‘Phillis Wheatley the black girl’ was the first African-American woman to publish a book? Wheatley, brought to America as a seven-year-old, was the first African-American woman poet, and Poetryfoundation.org provides this account of her tragic life.

Very sad that most of her literary heritage is lost.

Image from the poetryfoundation.org

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