Encyclopedia Womannica

Beautiful Minds: Bathsua Makin

Episode Summary

Bathsua Makin (1600-c. 1675) was an English writer, educator, and founder of a school for women.

Episode Notes

Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, and Grace Lynch. Special thanks to Shira Atkins and Edie Allard. Theme music by Andi Kristins.

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Episode Transcription

Hello! From Wonder Media Network, I’m Jenny Kaplan. And this is Encyclopedia Womannica.

Today we’re talking about a Beautiful Mind who was once called “England’s Most Learned Lady.” She fought to educate her fellow women, even when society thought it couldn’t be done. Let’s talk about Bathsua Makin.

Bathsua Reginald Makin was born in 1600, in England. Her father was a teacher in East London. Having an intellectual family encouraged Bathsua to pursue an academic path, and she quickly excelled.

At age 16, Bathsua published a book of verse featuring six languages! She also studied medicine, which would later help her take care of her aging father. Bathsua married a member of the English court, and had eight children with him over the course of a decade.

As Bathsua’s family grew, so did her  acclaim. She was widely considered the most educated woman in England by 1640. She even tutored the children of Charles I of England, and acted as governess to his daughter, Elizabeth Stuart.

Finding a place at the Royal Court was exactly what Bathsua needed. Her husband had lost his job in the years prior, plunging the large family into financial hardship.

Bathsua was a faithful servant to Princess Elizabeth Stuart. She even accompanied the princess into custody with Parliament during the English Civil War. Unfortunately, Elizabeth Stuart died in 1650, leaving Bathsua jobless and financially struggling once again.

In 1673, Bathsua founded a school for women just a few miles out of London. Her emphasis on education for women was groundbreaking at the time. She was living in an era when men generally thought women were weak and impossible to educate.

At her school, Bathsua taught music, writing, accounting, Latin, French, and a variety of other languages. In 1673, the same year she founded the school, she also published an article titled, “An Essay to Revive the Ancient Education of Gentlewomen.” The piece outlines arguments both for and against educating women, and ultimately ends by asserting women have the right to free speech and concludes that women deserve schooling. 

Women had few career prospects and little financial power at the time. So, Bathsua argued, women should learn rhetoric and persuasion in order to earn power. During the English Civil War, women often had to become the heads of their households, and Bathsua believed such people had to “understand, read, write, and speak their Mother Tongue.” This could help them become better wives and leaders.

The final details of Bathsua’s life are unclear. Her final letter from London is dated 1675. Scholars believe she died soon after.

Though Bathsua Makin didn’t exactly encourage women to take up the roles of men, she did break the status quo and argued for their intellectual equality. That is definitely worth celebrating.

Tune in tomorrow for the story of another Beautiful Mind. We’ll be traveling back over two centuries to learn about another author who fought for the equality of women and laid the groundwork for future feminists.

Special thanks to Liz Kaplan, my favorite sister and co-creator.

Talk to you tomorrow!