Originally published as Course of Popular Lectures, the works collected in this volume display the gift for oratory and range of progressive ideas that made Frances Wright (1795-1852) both a sought-after lecturer and a controversial figure in early nineteenth-century America.Born in Scotland, this pioneering freethinker and abolitionist emigrated to America in her twenties and became friends with Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. In 1828, she joined Robert Dale Owen's socialist community at New Harmony, Indiana, and helped him edit his New Harmony Gazette. The next year she and Owen moved to New York City, where they published Free Enquirer, which advocated liberalized divorce laws; birth control; free, state-run, secular education; and organization of the disadvantaged working class. It was at this time that she began delivering the popular lectures here collected. Some persistent themes that run throughout these well-argued pieces are: the importance of free, impartial inquiry conducted in a scientific spirit and not influenced by religious superstition or popular prejudice; the need for better, universal education that trains young minds in scientific inquiry rather than religious dogma; the advantage of focusing on the facts of the here-and-now rather than theological speculations; and the failure of American society to live up to its noble ideals of equality and justice for all.
With an insightful introduction by Wright scholar Susan S. Adams (Emeritus Professor of English, Northern Kentucky University), these stimulating lectures by an early and little-known feminist and freethinker will be of interest to students and scholars of women's studies, humanism, and freethought.
Frances Wright (1795-1852) was a feminist, abolitionist and social reformer. She became a US citizen in 1825 and wrote about political and social reforms. She advocated for universal education, the emancipation of slaves, birth control, equal rights and sexual freedom. Her public lectures in the US led to the establishment of Fanny Wright societies.
Preface, by Susan S. Adams
Lecture I: On the Nature of Knowledge
Lecture II: Of Free Inquiry
Lecture III: Of the More Important Divisions and Essential Parts of Knowledge
Lecture IV: Religion
Lecture V: Morals
Lecture VI: Opinions
Lecture VII: On Exisiting Evils and Their Remedy
Address I: Delivered in the New Harmony Hall, on the Fourth July, 1828
Address II: Delivered in the Walnut-Street Theatre, Philadelphia, on the Furth of July, 1829
Address III: Delivered at the Opening of the Hall of Science, New York, Sunday, April 26, 1829
Reply to the Traducers of the French Reformers of the year 1789
Analytical Table of Contents
Address on the State of the Public Mind and the Measures which it calls for
Review of the Times
Address to Young Mechanics
Eloquent and forceful in defence of liberty, Wright insisted that liberty be based on knowledge, that knowledge be based on experience and that there could be no true liberty if women were excluded from education and active participation in civil society. Equally, liberty in the United States required an end to slavery, which had famously been proven illegal under Scots law in 1777 in the case of Joseph Knight. Wright’s essays are both arguments in favour of scientific truth – ‘the true Bible is the book of nature, the wisest teacher he who most plainly expounds it’ – and demonstrations that such knowledge could be acquired by and appropriately promoted by a woman. She was, in her speeches, writings and social activism, the living embodiment of the relevance of her philosophy to the transformation of human relations and the advancement of a more equal society.
This re-issue of Frances Wright’s popular lectures offers a valuable introduction to the wide-ranging radicalism of her ideas. A public lecturer at a time when women were not expected to speak in public, Wright addressed the emancipation of slaves, the empowering of women and the defence of all kinds of free inquiry, and she called for a politics of progressive improvement for all. A reading of Frances Wright offers important insights into the feminism and radicalism of the 1820s in the early American Republic.