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Wakefield, Priscilla.

Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex.


Raised On Brook Farm
First Edition
By The Female Founder Of England's First Savings Bank
Wakefield, Priscilla. Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex; with Suggestions for its Improvement.  London: Printed for J. Johnson…and Darton and Harvey, 1798.
12mo.; lacking the half-title; armorial bookplate on front paste-down: the Lee family of Shropshire and Virginia; contemporary half-russia, marbled boards; rubbed; lower joint partially cracked; upper joint tender. In a specially made quarter-morocco slipcase.
First edition of Wakefield's monograph on women's issues, in which she advocates woman's financial independence through equal opportunities in education and business. Wakefield theorized that women should be trained by class, as follows: The first and second classes would enjoy partaking of the arts: writing, painting, engraving, sculpture, music and landscape gardening, though, quite pointedly, not theatre. Women of the third class were best suited to careers in education, especially training girls to become teachers in female seminaries themselves. This class of women would also be suited to shop work, apothecary work, the stationery business, confectionery and pastry cooking, light lathe work and toy making. Farming, she notes, would always be an option. The fourth and final class of women should be content to engage in "hard work, tidiness, and marriage," as one scholar puts it. Another explains, "She stresses the importance of the role of wife and mother in the homes of the poor, taking the view that miseries of the poor chiefly originate from their vices. She advocated early marriage and suggested a parochial reward for those who marry young which might be compensated for by a reduction in the number of illegitimate or unwanted children" (this and following quotes are from Notable Women Scientists, Gale Group, 2000). Such children as were born to the poor, she stressed, must be properly educated.
Priscilla Wakefield (1750-1832) was an active and visible philanthropist and social reformer, penning articles in Variety, letters to the editors of various journals, and notes on her humanitarian efforts in Reports of the Society of Bettering the Conditions and Increasing the Comforts of the Poor. Almost inadvertently, she founded England's first savings bank, when her Female Benefit Club and Penny Bank for Children merged, in 1798, into the Frugality Bank.  
At the age of forty, when her husband's business failings impelled her to seek remunerative employment, she became one of the first women to write about botany and natural science, publishing 17 books on these topics and others-most notably, children's books-in 20 years. Other noteworthy works include Mental Improvement, or, The Beauties and Wonders of Nature and Art; in a Series of Instructive Conversations (1794); An Introduction to Botany, in a Series of Familiar Letters (1796); Instinct Displayed, in a Collection of Well-Authenticated Facts, Exemplifying the Extraordinary Sagacity of Various Species of the Animal Creation (1811); and  An Introduction to the Natural History and Classification of Insects (1816).
Despite her humanitarian accomplishments and scientific publications, Wakefield is perhaps best-known for her morality tales composed to "enlighten, educate, and entertain" children through "stories of people grown wise through encountering and overcoming adversity." In one series, "recounting the travel adventures of a fictional family," Wakefield was ahead of her time in warning tomorrow's citizenry against prejudice, bigotry, and slavery. An obituarist in Gentleman's Magazine noted, "she was eminently successful [in her] efforts to improve the rising generation."

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