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“The quality of women’s intelligence”: female humanists in Renaissance Italy

“The quality of women’s intelligence”: female humanists in Renaissance Italy

By Julie Myers-Mushkin

MA Thesis, University of Louisville, 2016

Rogier van der Weyden, The Magdalen Reading,

Abstract: This thesis examines how the advent of humanism in Renaissance Italy impacted women, namely those who were raised within intellectual families and granted educational opportunities not before afforded to members of their sex.

In quattrocento Italy, learned women began to circulate their writings and participate in the humanist milieu, and the intellectual lives and published works of these female humanists all in some manner contested Renaissance patriarchy and gender perceptions. As such, this thesis challenges the conception that the Renaissance further disenfranchised women and offers a framework for analyzing and appreciating the ways in which women participated in the academic dialogue of their time once past the age of sexual maturity.

I argue that to fully analyze the myriad of ways in which learned adult women participated in humanism more narrowly, and in the Renaissance more broadly, their engagement with paternal figures, patrons, and patriarchal institutions must be appreciated on an individual basis. The investigation of Renaissance humanism and the educational opportunities the movement provided for women in Part I contextualizes the social and academic milieu of the four notable learned women presented in the microhistorical, biographical case studies.


Furthermore, the case studies support my larger argument that a sexually mature female humanist’s public reception and career longevity were dependent upon her willingness to adhere to patriarchal ideology and conform to traditional prescriptions of femininity. This thesis, therefore, suggests that historians continue to ask how adult women’s experiences were determined by their sexual maturity, marital choices, and relationship with paternal figures, and even more importantly, how adult women continued to meaningfully participate in society in spite of socially mandated limitations on their gender.

Click here to read this thesis from the University of Louisville

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