London: Richard Philips, 1803. First edition. Half morocco over marbled boards with gilt to spines. All edges speckled blue. Measuring 175 x 95mm and collating complete: xxvi, 238, *169-*238, 239-316; , 404, [1, blank]; , 444; , 504; , 527, [1, blank]; , 476, [4, adverts]. Externally a pleasing, square set with a bit of chipping to the morocco along the lower joints of volumes I-IV not affecting soundness, and some scuffing along the spines. Internally a surprisingly fresh copy with minimal foxing and several contemporary pen annotations not affecting text. Contemporary ownership notation from Ballygarth House (Ireland) to header of opening chapters in volumes II and VI; later ownership stamp of Lt. Col. Pepper to front pastedowns of all volumes. An important feminist work and a scarce text, which OCLC locates complete 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 Sor Juana de la Cruz, 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. Very Good (Item #4870)