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Conversations in Chemistry by Jane Marcet (1805)

8 March marks International Women’s Day – a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. In the Cathedral Library we have lots of groundbreaking books by women. 

This particular book from the Library was written by Jane Marcet (1769-1858). Marcet feared that her intellectual interests might be viewed as ‘unsuited to the ordinary pursuits of her sex’. Even so, in 1805 she published, anonymously, Conversations on Chemistry – a basic textbook aimed at instructing the public, and especially women, in the principles of experimental science.

To make her subject more accessible, and to encourage her readers to observe and ask questions about the world around them, Marcet wrote in English, rather than Latin, and framed her teaching within a series of informal dialogues between two imaginary pupils, Caroline and Emily, and their teacher, Mrs Bryant: “familiar conversation”, she writes, is more suited “to the female sex, whose education is seldom calculated to prepare their minds for abstract ideas, or scientific language.”

Jane Marcet went on to publish popular books on botany, economics, religion, and history, and new editions of her bestseller, Conversations in Chemistry, appeared throughout her life.