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The Contest for KnowledgeDebates over Women's Learning in Eighteenth-Century Italy$
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Maria Gaetana Agnesi

Print publication date: 2005

Print ISBN-13: 9780226010540

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226010564.001.0001

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PRINTED FROM CHICAGO SCHOLARSHIP ONLINE (www.chicago.universitypressscholarship.com). (c) Copyright University of Chicago Press, 2021. All Rights Reserved. An individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a monograph in CHSO for personal use.date: 18 April 2021

Maria Gaetana Agnesi

Maria Gaetana Agnesi

(p.117) IV Maria Gaetana Agnesi
The Contest for Knowledge
University of Chicago Press

This chapter presents an oration made by Maria Gaetana Agnesi in defense of women's education before a group of patricians in the summer of 1727. Her oration repeatedly takes to task those critics of women's education who restrict learning to a small circle of elite males rather than imagining learning as a public good for all of humanity. She laments the ignorance of the husbands who confine women to enforced idleness upon marriage and who allow their daughters to grow up equally unlearned. Agnesi chastised her audience for condescending to women and encouraged them to think of a learned wife as the best asset of any marriage. At the same time, however, Agnesi's oration sets clear limits on women's use of their learning. Most importantly, she argues for a return to the values of the past when women were instructed by men and also instructed them in the most profound aspects of philosophy.

Keywords:   Maria Gaetana Agnesi, women's education, marriage, philosophy

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