Edinburgh: David Ramsay, Monday, January 19, 1801. First edition. Bifolio newspaper comprising 4 pages. Tax stamp to upper right corner of front page. Some toning and chipping to edges and offsetting to masthead; some separation at central fold, but holding well. A fascinating example of the early popular influence of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792), the present paper contains a pseudonymously published poem inspired by and referencing this cornerstone feminist text.
Tucked onto page 3 of the Edinburgh Evening Courant, amid news of French prisoners and ads for masonry, under the fold in the central column, sits a poem. Unassuming at first glance, the title suggests that its placement belies its weight: The Rights of Both Sexes. With the simple by-line "Jasperina," the 20-line poem powerfully quotes and taps into the zeitgeist of Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman, published 9 years before. And it is a testament to the popular importance and lasting impact of that book's ideas about the fundamental equality of the sexes. "In Woolstoncraft's page Bridget Bearwell was skill'd, And her fancy with novel intention was fill'd: But Bridget improv'd on Miss Woolstoncraft's plan, And projected some small revolutions in man." Whether Bearwell was a local figure or invention of the writer's mind, the role she serves is to press on and expand Wollstonecraft's vision to include very specific, practical equalities in the home: cooking and childcare. The revolutionary idea being that if women can enter into a sphere previously reserved for men, the opposite should also happen to prevent women from shouldering double the duty. "''Tis plain,' she exclaim'd, 'that the sexes should share, In each other's amusements and care. I'm taught in man's duties and honours to join, And therefore let man be partaker of mine: Since to share with my husband in logic I'm fit, In classical lore, mathematics and wit; In return he shall weild the pot, kettle, and ladle, And unite in the charge of kitchen and cradle.'" In this briefly described but powerful world, the poetess called Jasperina declares "Henceforth, John our employments are common. Be woman like man, and let man be like woman." Indeed, the writer of this short poem recognizes that continuing to privilege traditionally masculine tasks alone does not lead to equality. It is the share as well in unpaid domestic labour traditionally placed on women that must also be valued and divided. (Item #2965)