Portrait of Judith Sargent Murray by John Singleton Copley, Terra Foundation for American Art, Daniel J. Terra Collection via Wikipedia.

Judith Sargent Stevens Murray is prominently remembered for her essays and journalistic comments on women’s rights. Her works advocated for women’s equality, access to education and right to control their earnings with her most significant essay, “On the Equality of the Sexes,” being published in 1790, before Mary Wollstonecraft’s, ‘Vindication of the Rights of Women’ (1792).

She was born on May 1, 1751, to a wealthy shipowner and merchant family in Gloucester, Massachusetts. While Judith received a relatively good education for a girl of her time, it was nothing compared to her brothers. Thus, Judith taught herself history, philosophy, geography and literature through books in the family’s vast library.

Judith was a firm believer in better educational opportunities for women. Her essays challenged and refuted predominant beliefs regarding the inferiority of the female brain, countering that it was actually due to a lack of access to education instead of physical limitations. Her essays were vital to the post-Revolutionary notion of “Republican Motherhood” – the belief that the patriot’s daughter should be raised to uphold republican values to be passed on to the next generation, while also upholding the morality of her husband and children.

In 1789, Judith published ‘The Gleaner’, a collection of essays she had written for the Massachusetts Magazine between 1791 and 1794. This book would further reinforce her beliefs for women’s rights and was purchased by notable figures such as George Washington, John Adams and Henry Knox. 

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