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Hannah More: The Freedom Of The Mind

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Hannah More

The Freedom of the Mind

History, no matter the period is full of figures that are surrounded by controversy. There will always be those who receive criticism beyond their due, and are their greatest works are combed through like a one looking for lice in someone's hair. Such is the fate of Hannah More and her brilliant work. She is a person not well know to the common public, but who's work is some of the most scrutinized and analyzed of all female authors and poets. However, she was a woman worthy of such scrutiny and she holds up well. She was a woman of some mystery who played an arguably important roll in the 18th and 19th centuries women's movement.

Hannah More was born to Jacob More and Mary Grace in a small town just a few miles from Bristol, England in 1745. She was the fourth of five daughters and her father was the local schoolmaster and naturally encouraged the girls to learn and be educated. To this, Hannah took well, as she showed herself to be quite bright and full of ideas and thoughts. However women had very little access to subjects such as math and science because of their unfeminine nature and they were discouraged. In spite of this taboo, More showed a liking for math and excelled in the subject. She also showed promise in the more acceptable area of writing. Her older sister opened a school for young women, at which More was taught and eventually became a teacher at. The school ideology and teaching was based very strongly on religion and morality and this is what the girls at the school, including More, were to be educated under. This strict religious schooling would have a major impact on More's later life and writings.

At age 22, More left her sister's school and became engaged instead to a wealthy man by the name of William Turner. However, Turner seemed to have cold feet and continuously postponed the wedding until More became discouraged and broke off the engagement herself. This was to affect her deeply and she vowed that she would never marry, no matter the suitor. And she kept that vow until her death. After the trying time with Turner, More wanted to strike out on her own and migrated to London and began to try her hand as a playwright. Her works, although by a woman, slowly gained acceptance and esteem. Her work caught the eye of a dramatist, David Garrick, with who she would form a life-long bond. He and his wife accepted her into their elite social circle were she was gained recognition and praise from many respected scholars. Garrick helped her to refine her skills as a playwright and it was during this time that she put out some of her most famous works of drama. However, her love of theater was to be shattered when Garrick died suddenly and from that point on she was to compose not a single pay for the rest of her life. Her grief for her friend and mentor was deep and she went away to Hampton and stayed with Garrick's widow for a time of recovery.

After she recovered from this very painful loss, More set out upon a new mission. Along with one of her sisters, she began a program to educate the poor. She was to build several schools which taught mostly Bible study and religious thought, an offshoot from More's earlier strict religious education. In 1802, More build Barley Wood where she and many of her sisters where to teach for many years. She became in icon for the poor and many flocked to her for help and education, which she willingly provided.

It was not until her later years that she began to write her most serious works. In 1799 she wrote and published Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education and this was to become the major work of her life. This work is what sparks much of the debate over her work; the great question being was Hannah More a feminist or an anti-feminist. There seems to be few blurred lines between the two, but with More the lines are more than a bit hazy. The work has attracted much criticism for its seemingly contradictive moods. In much of it she calls women strongly to action, calling them to take charge and break away from the traditional way of life relegated to women. Yet in the same breath she acknowledges women's inferior statues to men and many claim that her view of women's right is to narrow. This may have some truth to it. Although More was brilliant in the area of math and excelled in the subject, she discourages women from seeking and participating in such a study in many of her works. Yet at the same time she encourages women to break free and excel. Very counterproductive. She speaks in may of her works about high society and the responsibility that members had to ser an example to their social inferiors. She stresses this very much in Structures on the Modern System of Female Education.

Education was something that

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