18th and 19th century Europe

Should young girls learn to read? This question would generate little controversy today, but it provoked strong debates and negative reactions in Europe before the 18th and 19th centuries.

Young girls had access to books in many European countries in the 18th century, especially in the Netherlands, Germany, and England. While some “literary ladies,” or women authors of pedagogical books, and other educationalists encouraged young girls to read and develop their own intellectual interests, this “female curiosity” was regarded as dangerous by many authors in the 19th century. Even for girls who wanted to read, the options were not very abundant: most books available for girl readers were advice books. 

Instead of reading and developing their intellectual interests, girls were instead encouraged to learn domestic skills. Young girls in middle- and upper-class families usually had the chance to study various academic subjects with tutors and governesses, but this education was simply meant to prepare girls for marriage.  The goal of education was to create the ideal girl who, according to the authors of advice books, would be a delightful and informed companion for her husband. 

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