MIA: Library: Mary Beard, Woman as a Force in History, 1946

Woman as a Force in History. Mary Beard 1946

cover of first edition


THIS volume, as its subtitle distinctly states, is a study. In no part of it is any claim made to an all-embracing fullness or to philosophic completeness.

In the first place, it is a study of the tradition that women were members of a subject sex throughout history. This tradition has exercised an almost tyrannical power over thinking about the relations of men and women, for more than a hundred years.

In the second place, the idea of subjection is tested by reference to historical realities – legal, religious, economic, social, intellectual, military, political, and moral or philosophical.

Since American feminists have long laid emphasis on the alleged subjection of women by law, pointing to Anglo-American Common Law as expounded by Sir William Blackstone, special attention is given to (1) an analysis of his views of that law, (2) an exploration of women’s property rights in mediaeval English law, and (3) an examination of the rise and growth of Equity in England and the United States. Stress is laid on Equity for the’ reason that it almost paralleled the development of the Common Law in time and had thoroughly riddled common-law doctrines on married women’s property rights long before Blackstone published the first volume of his Commentaries in 1765 and more than a hundred years before the feminists of 1848 adopted Blackstone as the prime authority for their belief in the historic subjection of women.

In the third place, inasmuch as for more than a century it has been widely claimed that the idea of equality furnishes a perfect guide to women in their search for an escape from “subjection,” the origin, nature, and applications of this idea, which had become traditional by 1848, are brought to the inquest.

In the fourth place, I have roughly outlined, in my analytical chapters and in my last chapter dealing with long history, the kind of studying, writing, and teaching which I believe to be mandatory if a genuine interest in understanding human life is to be cultivated. For getting closer to the truth about it, the personalities, interests, ideas, and activities of women must receive an attention commensurate with their energy in history. Women have done far more than exist and bear and rear children. They have played a great role in directing human events as thought and action. Women have been a force in making all the history that has been made.

As an aid to those who may be inclined to think that written history should be as comprehensive and realistic as possible, I have included a Bibliography, though a brief one, of some important works on women in history.

Mary R. Beard
New Milford, Conn.,
Summer, 1945