The revolutions which took place during the sixteenth century in the condition of woman were not less important than those produced in Church and State, in religion, in the arts and sciences, in academical institutions, in commerce manufactures, in the sentiments and manners of the most celebrated nations, in the mutual relations of the countries of Europe, and in the situation of the latter with regard to the other divisions of the globe. These changes must be contemplated with due regard to the conditions already referred to as characteristic of the preceding centuries.
Among nations of different origin, the condition of woman depends, principally, on the natural qualities of the heart and mind, by which each of them is distinguished. On the contrary, among nations of the same origin, such as the Germans, and all those that were either descended from, or conquered by, the Germans, that state of the women is determined by the particular constitutions, customs, manners, and refinement of each nation, and also by the situation, power, and disposition of their sovereigns. As a great change took place in all these points, among the European nations, during the period
under discussion, so the condition of the sex underwent an equal revolution with the causes by which it is governed.
It was a rough world in which women found themselves at liberty to come and go, to taste new pleasures, enjoy fresh luxuries, hear new opinions, and think new thoughts. But at least it was a world of action, of striving, of pushing forward. Despotic as was the throne, as opposed to feudal rule, oppressive as was the new land-owning class, a freer spirit prevailed. Social changes worked gradually and the germs of later modern intellectual activity began their growth.
The fact is amply borne out in history, that no European nation, in which the arts and sciences flourished, were they wholly monopolized by the stronger sex. But during the era of the Renaissance they took a larger share in both; the great number, in order to cultivate the qualities of the heart and understanding, and to fit themselves for the performance of new social duties; but many with a view to exalt themselves above the level of their sex, and to vie with the most industrious and the most celebrated men in the career of genius reputation.
The lively enthusiasm for the ancient languages and monuments, and for the restoration of all the arts and sciences, which was excited in the fourteenth and continued during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, was caught up by certain happily organized persons, and became a part of the spirit of the times. Women applied themselves to the study of the Greek and Latin and even of the Oriental languages, and acquired, or at least endeavored to acquire, glory by the fruits of their industry and genius; several distinguished themselves as public orators, or as teachers of the languages and sciences.
Reference: Woman: Her Position, Influence and Achievement Throughout the Civilized World. Designed and Arranged by William C. King. Published in 1900 by The King-Richardson Co. Copyright 1903 The King-Richardson Co.