When Judith Murray published her landmark essay “On the Equality of the Sexes” in 1790, she literally began a women’s right movement that has not ended to this day. Especially in the late 18th century, however, Judith Murray’s ideas regarding gender equality were extremely radical, and served to influence major literary figures as activists, both in the United States as well as in Great Britain.
It is a clear theme throughout the entire piece of writing the importance Murray places on education for women. She believed that, being self-educated herself, education was the “great equalizer”, so to speak. Murray truly believed that through the acquiring of knowledge, women could eventually succeed in life. This is very consistent with essays and letters written in immediate years after this essay was published, both in the United States and in England–proving the significance of Murray’s essay on women’s rights.
It is very relevant to consider the parallel situations between Judith Murray and her extremely educated brother in America, to famous British poet William Wordsworth and his sister Dorothy Wordsworth. Primarily known for her letters and essays, Dorothy Wordsworth had very similar views to Judith Murray–considering the sharing of cultural and literary information between the two countries, it is very safe to assume they were more than aware of each other’s work, but probably in contact as well. The same goes for another feminist British writer, Mary Wollenstonecraft.
The idea of equality is very well presented by the author as a whole. The poem that served to introduce the piece was very effective–as well as introducing the major points of her essay, her concrete comparisons, in addition with her implementation of an eerie rhyming factor, was a great use of literary device.
In addition to the poem serving as a way to introduce the ideas, it also forced the reader to slow down. By nature, poetry is generally more abstract and requires more attentiveness, as well as thought. This, in essence, is the hook of the essay. Although the general idea of the essay is explained in subsequent prose, the dynamics of how the article was organized is a very effective way to immediately grab the attention of the reader.
As stated, the poem also slowed the reader down, and increased their attentiveness to detail. Because the initial poem has so many concrete and relatable images and comparisons embedded in it, this also served as a sort of foreshadowing for the rest of the piece of writing. For example, any point that was hammered home in the poem, when brought back up in the prose, would immediately jog the readers memory, and send them back to the main idea. This makes the piece very relatable to anyone.
The fact that virtually anyone can relate to the main idea of equality for women, simply because of the way the essay was constructed, makes it universally effective. One does not need to be a woman to understand Murray’s points, because she paints such a clear picture. As far as the ending, it was certainly effective. The testament to this statement is the simple influence it had on other male and female thinkers of the time.
Murray, Judith Sargent. “On the Equality of the Sexes.” Penn Libraries. Ed. Mary Ockerbloom. n.d. Web. 11 May 2012.