5%! (Five Percent!??)

In working with the website for the Darwin Correspondence Project, it came to my attention that there is a section specifically created for Charles Darwin’s correspondence with women. It did not strike me as being odd, but it did spark some curiosity for what might be within. On the informational page for the correspondence with women, a general description is listed for these women. It was said that only approximately 100 out of 2000 correspondents were female. That is only 5%! However, it makes me wonder about if the other scientists of the time gave any more or less attention to women.

The close to the majority of the letters were described as pertaining to family matters. These were not the letters to which I paid attention. I was more interested in seeing what types of observations were being made by these women that Darwin was requesting as well as the letters of scientific import.

A letter by Caroline Kennedy, written on 26 December 1881, requesting Darwin to ensure that the accuracy of her recount of his work regarding women was the first to really draw my attention. She was very involved with women’s advancement in education, and she joined groups and associations tied to the cause. On the site, it says, “Kennard published articles and gave addresses on important issues related to social reform and on prominent American women activists and poets.” It was one of these papers which led her to write the letter to Darwin; however, there is only a summary of the letter available on the site. It was a bit disappointing, because I would have liked to see the words that she used instead of reading the summary someone else created.

Darwin’s response to her letter was as to be expected, except one detail included at the end. He explicitly said that the letter is intended only for her “private use”, because he wrote it “without any care of style”. I did not read many of the correspondences with men (due to time constraints), but it seems as though he may have been more meticulous and careful with his words when corresponding with male counterparts. More research will be conducted, and I will try to follow up within the next week. This letter, written 9 January 1882, informed Kennedy that in ‘Descent of Man’ he wrote in short of his views of the equities of males and females. He did not say that women could not become “intellectually equal” to men; he basically said that it would take a lot of work and a lot of time for this to be achieved. He also said, “… early education of our children… happiness of our homes… would… greatly suffer.” It appears to me that he favors the position of women as the caretaker of the home, because they are adept in the task. He does not  dismiss the idea that women could become intellectually equal, but addresses the problems which could arise from such a situation.

Kennedy’s response to Darwin’s response, written 28 January 1882, was quite clever, but it avoided his comment addressing the education of children and the household. She explains that if women were given the opportunities as men were awarded, they could be just as successful and aid in the “propagation of the best and survival of the fittest in the human species.” The Darwin Correspondence website did not have the actual letter, but the last part was quoted directly from it.I thought it was quite humorous that she used his own words to prove her point. I imagine that as she wrote that line, she felt like the lady in the picture talking to the Darwin primate shown at the end of this post.

P.S. For a good laugh, check out this gif I found for Darwin while searching for images: Haters Gonna Hate


By cartoonist for “Fun” magazine -First published in Fun, Nov 1872. Original caption: That Troubles Our Monkey Again – female descendant of Marine Ascidian: “Darwin, say what you like about man; but I wish you would leave my emotions alone”. As detailed above, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4659191

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