London: Richard Philips, 1803. First edition. In six volumes.Contemporary calf bindings with gilt trim to covers and morocco and gilt to spines; light shelfwear to some volumes; some joints repaired; marbled end papers. Text blocks tight; volumes have minor foxing on some pages not affecting text; overall internally clean with very small pencil annotations in Vol IV (Lady Elizabeth Hastings, pages 397-398) and Vol V (Mary, Queen of Scots, page 103). Contemporary ink ownership signature of Mary Marriott on third fly leaf of all volumes except V. A Near Fine copy of this rare text, which OCLC locates in only three institutions.
Inspired by Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman, Mary Hays determined to write a history of women more diverse than the popular depictions of femininity. Female Biography therefore cuts a wide swath through history, educating readers on the cultural impact women have had on politics, education, art, and literature so that they may escape narrow definitions of submissive womanhood. “My pen has been taken up in the cause, and for the benefit of my own sex…to excite a worthier emulation, the following memorial of those women whose endowments or whose conduct have reflected lustre upon the sex is presented more especially to the rising generation who have not grown old in folly, whose hearts have not been seared by fashion…Every character has been judged upon its own principles.” In the volumes that follow, Hays presents the lives of women from Zenobia and Cleopatra, to Elizabeth I and Mary of Scotland, to Margaret Cavendish and Anne Clifford with honesty and the goal of having her girl readers form their own judgments on what qualities add luster to their sex. (Item #1976)