Episode 10: On the Equality of the Sexes, by Judith Sargent Murray

On the Equality of the Sexes

On the Equality of the Sexes, also known as Essay: On the Equality of the Sexes, is a 1790 essay by Judith Sargent Murray. Murray wrote the work in 1770 but did not release it until April 1790, when she published it in two parts in two separate issues of Massachusetts Magazine. The essay…has been credited as being Murray’s most important work.
In this feminist essay, Murray posed the argument of spiritual and intellectual equality between men and women. It also included a liberal analysis of traditional male superiority in the Bible and criticism of the deprivation of female education of the time.

Read the full text here.

The Author

Born into a well-to-do merchant family, Judith Sargent Murray (1751–1820) benefited from her parents’ liberal views on the education of women. Although her hometown of Gloucester on the Massachusetts coast suffered as a result of trade restrictions during the American colonies’ struggle for independence, Judith was attracted to the ideas of the revolutionary movement. As she indicated in the opening to this, her most famous essay, she quickly saw the implications of the rhetoric of liberty and equality to unbalance not only the political order, but gender relations as well. Published pseudonymously in 1790, “On the Equality of the Sexes” circulated among Murray’s circle of friends for more than a decade before it first appeared in print: her identity as the author behind its clear arguments for the innate equality of men and women was a relatively open secret.

-Teaching American History

Our Guest

Jennie Austin Preece

Jennie Austin Preece was born and reared in the great potato-loving state of Idaho. She earned her bachelor’s degree in English/Humanities teaching at Brigham Young University. From there, she traveled down the roads of teaching mothering, writing, and eventually found herself in Cambridge, MA, where she earned her master’s degree at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. After migrating back west to Denver with her family, Jennie founded LemonED LLC, an education consulting business. When she isn’t creating curriculum or perfecting prose, you can find her dabbling in poetry, hiking with her kids and husband, traveling (when possible), or eating anything with peanut butter and chocolate.

“Thus, if a man is superior to a woman because he’s bigger, then a cow is superior to a man.”

Judith Sargent Murray

Amy’s Takeaways

In this short essay, 18th Century author Judith Sargent Murray wrote so many things that felt so relevant to me in the 21st Century. She observes that children start out as equals, but society trains boys to “aspire” and girls to be “confined” – thoughts I had as I watched my own kids and their friends in preschool, wondering at what point they would start to notice the differences in the rules and roles for boys and girls. And Murray writes how married women without opportunities can start to feel “inferior” to their husbands… and then “embittered.” This hits tragically close to home for so many marriages today. My reading partner Jennie is a ray of light, a brilliant interpreter of literature, and like Murray, a lover of poetry and of Boston.

“Are we deficient in reason? We can only reason from what we know, and if opportunity of acquiring knowledge hath been denied us, the inferiority of our sex cannot fairly be deduced from thence…I would calmly ask, is it reasonable, that a candidate for immorality, for the joys of heaven, an intelligent being, who is to spend an eternity in contemplating the works of Deity, should at present be so degraded, as to be allowed no other ideas, than those suggested by the mechanism of a pudding, or the sewing [of] the seams of a garment?”

Judith Sargent Murray

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