Edgeworth, Maria

Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849)

Novelist, science teaching, science education for women

Maria Edgeworth, the daughter of Richard Lovell Edgeworth, was born at Black Bourton, in Oxfordshire , England . Following the death of her mother in 1780 and her father’s remarriage the family moved to the family estate in Edgeworthstown. Here Maria assisted her father in running the estate. She is remembered as a novelist (e.g. Castle Rackrent) but she also wrote many books on education and more specifically science education.  

Maria Edgeworth also contributed to the debate in the education of women. Contrary to the norms of the time she advocated that women’s education should include intellectual pursuits that promoted the development of rational thought and that women should be taught science. An early publication, Letters for Literary Ladies (1795), concerned reform in women’s education. This book advocated that science, and in particular chemistry, was an important subject for women because of its application to the domestic realm.  

Maria Edgeworth was influenced by Joseph Priestly and the chemist Thomas Beddoes, her brother-in-law. She met many notable scientists including Humphrey Davy and Jane Marcet, author of Conversations in Chemistry. At the end of the eighteenth century she collaborated with her father to produce The Parent’s Assistant, and Essays on Practical Education in two volumes published in 1798. This book advocated an inquiry based approach to teaching science and to introduce students to data collection, observation and experimentation, similar to the approach adopted by the Department of Education in the new Junior Certificate science course in the twenty first century.

She was made an honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy in 1842.

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