London: Vernor and Hood in the Poultry, 1798. First Edition. Full calf binding with red morocco label to spine. Rebacked to style with contemporary boards. Previous owner's bookplate of L. P. Shaw-Storey on front pastedown. Mild offsetting to front and rear pastedowns; mild scattered foxing to preliminaries but else internally about Fine. Overall a clean, tight, and pleasing copy of this rare work on women's education. With ESTC listing 12 copies at US institutions, and the most recent copies appearing at auction in 1938 and 1914, it's an educational title that has become quite scarce.
A prolific author, Mary Pilkington drew on her firsthand experiences as an orphan and a governess to create her most important work. While the majority of her writing centered on fiction (she produced over 40 novels leading up to 1825), A Mirror for the Female Sex emphasized the importance of education and socialization in young women's lives. Dedicating the book "To Superiors of Female Seminaries," she asserts that "The Historical Beauties has a natural claim on some share of your patronage: It aims at the same objects with you, cooperates with all your labours in improving and polishing our sex...It makes an humble tender of assistance, in disclosing for the benefit of your charming pupils, the purest sources of whatever is best calculated for informing their understandings and bettering their hearts." Indeed, in telling the stories of historical women's achievements, Pilkington created a work that aimed to entertain and educate, encouraging its female readers to appreciate and enjoy their studies. More important than anything, in Pilkington's view, was a broad understanding of human behavior that extended beyond a young woman's domestic space. "A thorough knowledge of history is certainly one of the most essential parts of a girl's education, and I confess myself very anxious to inspire you with a relish for the study of it...a young woman totally unacquainted with history must of course have her ideas bounded to the spot where she resides, and be incapable of deriving any advantage from a knowledge of the manners and customs of people who inhabit different parts of the globe." A rare and exceptionally pleasing copy of this guide book on female education, which emphasized both historical knowledge and the enjoyment of learning. (Item #2292)