These men were all middle class men, mostly self made and entrepreneurial. They started to conduct their own scientific experiments, some relating to their own business i.e. Wedgwood others for pure research i.e. Priestly. There were some such as Thomas Day who had very strange ideas. He wanted a wife who would eschew normal feminine mores and become an enlightened wife. To this end he went to the Shrewsbury Foundling Hospital and acquired two girls that he proposed to bring up and educate one of which he would marry. He named these girls Sabrina and Lucretia he attempted to train them in his ideas but failed. Not surprising when one learns that part of this training was to pour hot wax on to their arms and be disappointed when they screamed.
Kate now began to look at the wives and daughters of this group, stressing the ways in which these women not only supported their men but folk physically aided them in their endeavours.
Mary Priestly wife to Thomas was said by him to organise the house round him and his chemical experiments, at the same time raising their family and keeping mice warm for him on the mantelpiece. He was a Unitarian preacher and made his support for the French Revolution well known. This led to the Priestly riots in which his house was destroyed. They escaped to London and thence to Pennsylvania. This is where she really excelled. Here she designed a new house supervised its construction and supported Thomas in his work.
Sarah Wedgwood Josiah’s wife was another lady who went far beyond her expected household duties. She had started married life defying her father’s wishes by marrying Josiah, father would not give his permission until Josiah acquired at least £3000 an enormous sum at this time. Josiah was a potter and managed to raise this sum. He had lost his father when young and had been brought up by his mother and Aunt Catherine and thought that a family needed a strong female.
In his pottery he wanted to find a pure white glaze to match the wares coming in from China so he did his own experiments. Sarah helped him in this and recorded the results. These were kept in a secret code as at this time there was a great deal of industrial espionage. Sarah also helped in the factory quality control she had last say on both design and product and in yet another function she settled the new workers in their jobs, they would have been mostly women.
Still she had not finished as well as raising their 8 children she found time to go down to London to watch Parliament in action and discuss it over dinner with Josiah.
With this background and upbringing it is not so surprising that their daughters Catherine and Sarah should grow to be both philanthropic and abolitionists. Active in the anti-slave trade and members of the first Female Anti-Slave Trade movement which boycotted commodities produced with slave labour.
Richard Lovell Edgeworth and his wife Honora were interested in giving their children the best education they could but found that, whilst there were theories, there seemed to be no facts so they set about recording what their children did and learned. They allowed the eldest son a great deal of lee-way and this did not seem successful. Maria however proved a success, a novelist admired by Jane Austin; she produced children’s books as well having identified a market for them. She, like her parents was interested in education and wrote Practical Education which became a seminal book on teaching methods for many years. She campaigned for education for women, asking “what was women’s relationship in society?”
There were a few questions from the floor and the lecture ended with resounding applause.