A bit of a pause to consider Frances Wright's views on public education ...
I’m pretty sure that most of what I’m going to write the next few entries will not find its way into the finished book Frankenstein Sundae. (If, indeed, I ever do finish!) But while I’ve been reading Frances Wright—and reading about her—I’ve been thinking about what Wright wrote about education—and about public schools—in her Views of Society and Manners in America, the 1821 book that resulted from her journeys around America, 1818–1820, mostly in the East and South.
So let’s begin with this …
Mary Shelley (1797–1851) never went to school. Her father, novelist and political philosopher William Godwin, tutored her at home, and she was a determined and assiduous scholar throughout her life. But, for the most part, she was an autodidact. No school. None.
Mary’s mother, Mary Wollstonecraft (1759–97), who, as you recall, died following the delivery of little Mary, was a fierce advocate for women’s rights (including education), as was Frances Wright (1795-1852), who, as you can see from her dates, was Mary Shelley’s almost exact contemporary. Wright expected the same fire in Mary Wollstonecraft’s daughter, but it was not there, not in the furious, flaming way it had been in the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792). Mary Shelley’s was a bright but quieter fire.
As we’ve seen, in October 1828 Mary Shelley declined Wright’s invitation to join her at her colony, Nashoba, near Memphis, Tennessee—Nashoba, Wright’s hopeful place to train and educate former slaves for lives of freedom.
As we’ve also seen, Wright wrote fierce words against slavery in Views of Society, but she wrote on all sorts of other topics, as well, including public education. And this is where I’ll pick up the thread next time.