Education and Women: Why Not?

Braidyn Womer

Education has always been an important topic in every growing society. During the Renaissance period, being educated was beginning to be necessary. Men and women have been treated differently since the beginning of time; many of the differences being negative toward women. Education in the Renaissance period is no exception to these differences. Women have suffered greatly from the stereotypes set by society and have missed out on great opportunities simply because it was unwanted by men. Education, changing drastically between the 15th and 17th centuries, was certainly kept from women, although the rich and powerful were able to receive some education; however it was not always used.

It has been stated equality may have been achieved between men and women during the Italian Renaissance. There is no way this is possible. Opportunities arose for the daughters of the rich and wealthy, but what they were able to do after that education, led right back to the typical spot of a woman: a housewife. They still faced choices and challenges unique to their gender (Hurlburt 1-2).

A woman’s role in society is to carry the child, preferably a male, and raise that child into a strong, educated individual that will contribute positively to society in some way; at least this is what we have been told. “Categorizing women by their sexual role, male intellectuals urged obedience and virtue, and championed marriage and procreation as the primary duties of women” (Hurlburt 2).

The education in the Renaissance was created with humanist ideals. Humanism, considered by our dictionary today, is “Philosophy, a variety of ethical theory and practice that emphasizes reason, scientific inquiry, and human fulfillment in the natural world and often rejects the importance of belief in God. (Humanism 1)” While some women did receive this education alongside men, the options of what to do with that education were cut severely.

Material covered in the Renaissance period focused very much on language and literature. Basic education dealt with grammatical lessons from ancient texts with “moral, political, and historical content” (Black 1). Humanism did not add too much to primary and secondary education, but when past that. Humanism discussed philosophy and reasoning as to why things happen. It shied away from easy answers and religion. For some reason, this type of education was negative when placed in the hands of women (Black 1).

During the early Renaissance period, children, male and female, attended school in Florence. Women from the nobility or upper classes often had obligations that required literacy. With the rise of higher education, households were able to employ poor university students as tutors. If lucky, girls were sometimes permitted to join the tutoring sessions of their brothers (Legacy 1).

Isotta, Ginevra Nogarola, Cassandra Fedele, and Laura Cereta were all female humanists of the Renaissance period. It could be said that their possession of a humanist education may have led to extra difficulties in their lives. “These young women had the free time to devote to study, but like all elite females, despite their intellect or because of it, they eventually faced pressure to marry or enter convents” (Hurlburt 2). Wifehood and motherhood were often chosen over their scholarship, which was due to their male humanist partners. Nogarola and Fedele chose this option and turned back only when widowhood allowed them the freedom to return to their studies.

Many women who chose education over family ended up choosing convents for intellectual and marital sanctuary. Nogarola’s endeavors with publicly showing her education led to much speculation from male humanists as well as females within the community. She embraced self-imposed exile in a cell of her own making. She alarmed society by picking up Christian humanism, which was found more appropriate for women (Hurlburt 3).

Sometimes, the only connection for women to education was if they wished to be a nun. Having to read God’s work, it was mandatory they learned to read and write. Some young girls even learned Latin. What “education” girls did receive generally showed the views of the importance of childrearing and their future roles and wife and mother (Legacy 1).

While marriage meant leaving education on the side, it allowed for humanist “praise” for the system and a woman’s place in it. Although it wasn’t accepted or appreciated, placing women within the educational system meant a lot to those within the system and those who wished to be.

In William Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew, we are introduced to two female characters: Bianca and Katherina. Bianca is praised for her docile ways and never “tests the system” that society had set up. This may be the reason why several suitors came her way. Katherina, on the other hand, did nothing but test, pull, and ply at social setup for women (Shakespeare 310).

Katherina was known as the demon out the two; Bianca the angel. Because of standing her ground her whole life and not wanting to simply be a wife or a mother, men despised her and were a bit scared. Women weren’t supposed to be like Katherina; she was odd (Shakespeare 315).

Katherina, however, did end up falling right back into the norms of society. Petruchio, the suitor for her, ended up winning Katherina over. He succeeded in taming the shrew. She ended up pleasing the norms of society by the end of the play, giving Petruchio the power in the relationship. All were happy; pleased that this burden was taken care of. Much like the education that women actually did get their hands on, what was done with it in the end was minimal, and unimportant. Katherina stood her ground for so long and fought for what she believed in, yet gave it all away to please a man, a suitor (Shakespeare 340). This happening proves that although women attempted, or actually did, fight for what they wanted and had it in their grasp, it was easiest to please society by going back into the stereotypical position as wife and mother.

In the periods after the Renaissance, women faced the same issues; some are still faced today. Since the beginning of time women are the mothers and wives who clean house and tuck everyone in to bed. Once a stereotype is set, it is hard to change. With the expansion of education occurring so drastically in the Renaissance period, it was sadly expected for women to be left behind. Education was part of the man’s “world”, not the woman’s. This is no excuse for the lack of effort on everyone’s part to educate society as a whole. After all, all “proper” homes at the time had a man and wife and children. Why not have everyone in the house educated? Wouldn’t that make a truly exceptional family?

Works Cited

"Humanism." 2007. 10 Nov 2007 < /browse/humanism>.

Hurlburt, Holly S.. "A Renaissance for Renaissance Women?." Journal of Women's History 19.22007 193-201. 10 November 2007 < =/journals/journal_of_womens_history/v019/19.2hurlburt.html>.

Shakespeare, William. "Taming of the Shrew." The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. Ed. Peter Ackroyd. Glasgow: HarperCollins Publishers, 2006.

Stern, Laura Ikins. "Journal of Interdisciplinary History." Humanism and Education in Medieval and Rennaisance Italy: Tradition and Innovation in Latin Schools from the Twelfth to the Fifteenth Century 34.12003 85-86. 10 November 2007

"The Education of Medieval Woman." The Educational Legacy of Medieval and Renaissance Traditions. 10 Nov 2007 <>.