Harvard Project Examines Darwin’s Views on Women

A new website at Harvard University examines Charles Darwin’s views on gender. In his 1871 book The Descent of Man, Darwin observed that women’s intellectual abilities “are characteristic of the lower races.” He wrote that women were deficient in fields “requiring deep thought, reason, or imagination.”

But in examining correspondence that Darwin had with more than 150 women, the Harvard research project found that the famed naturalist was not a complete chauvinist.  In a 1877 letter to Elinor Mary Dicey, Darwin wrote, “I should regret that any girl who wished to learn physiology should be checked, because it seems to me that the science is the best one or sole one for giving to any person an intelligent view of living beings.”

Mary Treat

In an 1872 letter to Mary Treat, a naturalist in New Jersey, Darwin lavished high praise on her work by saying, “Your observations and experiments on the sexes of butterflies are by far the best, as far as known to me, which have ever been made.”

Filed Under: Research/Study


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